Analysis - Sunderland can save face before the international break with win at Aston Villa

Dick Advocaat heads to Villa Park tomorrow
Dick Advocaat heads to Villa Park tomorrow

Publicly, Dick Advocaat was wary of setting any concrete points targets when he arrived on Wearside for his SOS mission last March.

After every positive result, Advocaat was invariably asked how many more Sunderland needed, yet he brushed off the questions with a ‘just look to win the next game’ shrug.

The potential absence of lightning quick new signing Adama Traore won’t do Sunderland’s chances any harm.

But after Sunderland’s fortuitous victory at Everton took the Black Cats to 10 points from his first seven games, Advocaat conceded that he had originally thought that would be sufficient to beat the drop.

It would have been naive in the extreme to genuinely believe that the ex-Holland manager was keeping an open mind over what constituted a successful survival tally.

Likewise, Advocaat will have looked at the four games prior to next week’s international break as an opportunity; a chance to usher out the fear factor on Wearside by putting six or seven points on the board.

Of course, the opening exchanges of the campaign have heightened, rather than eased, the sense of doom and gloom. Yet there is a chance for salvation at Villa Park tomorrow.

If Sunderland can break their duck with a first Premier League victory this weekend, then they head into the fortnight’s breather with four points on the board. After the opening two games, that would give proceedings a far healthier complexion.

Aston Villa - likely to be alongside Sunderland in the end-of-season reckoning - will equally see this weekend’s encounter as a pivotal one.

Shorn of last season’s key figures Christian Benteke, Fabian Delph and Ron Vlaar, and on the back of successive defeats, there will be an edginess at Villa Park.

The potential absence of lightning quick new signing Adama Traore, who suffered a knock in midweek, won’t do Sunderland’s chances any harm either, particularly given the manner in which the Black Cats were carved open by Villa’s pace in Gus Poyet’s final game in charge last March.

If Sunderland can defend as they did against Swansea, and more importantly reproduce that dogged determination, then Advocaat’s side have a sniff.

The approaching transfer deadline will consume attention next week. But tomorrow is a chance for a mini Get Out of Jail free card.