Sunderland-Swansea City Preview
The pressure is building on Swansea City ahead of their meeting with fellow strugglers Sunderland at the Liberty Stadium on Wednesday.
The Swans (4-7-9) have endured a difficult campaign so far and enter this match just two points off the drop zone with a change of manager along the way.
Despite some promising early signs, the introduction of Alan Curtis at the helm hasn't steadied the Swansea ship as of yet, with the Welsh side downed 3-2 by League Two's Oxford United on Sunday in the biggest upset of that competition so far. A defeat on Wednesday would see the Swans' season go from bad to worse, given that visitors Sunderland are one of three teams below them in the table.
Victory against the Black Cats is absolutely crucial if Curtis and company are to avoid getting bogged down in a relegation scrap, but in his pre-match, press-conference the manager was keen to stress how important it is his side treat it like a normal match.
"We have a big game on Wednesday, we have to look forward and I'm sure we'll bounce back," Curtis said. "I wouldn't call it a must-win game at this stage, but we need to win games sooner rather than later.
"We know the significance of picking up three points, but we need to treat it like any other game and use our home advantage."
One of the reasons for Swansea's struggles has been the inconsistent play of Jonjo Shelvey. Though team chairman Huw Jenkins has denied reports of a falling out with the 23-year-old England national, the midfielder has emerged as a popular target in the January transfer window - Newcastle is reported as a potential destination for a price tag between £10 and £12 million.
Visitors Sunderland (4-3-13) have hardly had much to shout about themselves this season, but a 3-1 win over Aston Villa last time out in the league helped the Black Cats trend upward after five straight defeats in December.
A loss to holders Arsenal in the FA Cup on Saturday won't have pleased manager Sam Allardyce, but it is the fixture schedulers who have really got 'Big Sam' all riled up, thanks to their rescheduling of this game to Wednesday night in order to give Swansea more recovery time from their Sunday cup fixture.
"I was infuriated by how the fixtures panned out and by us having to change from Tuesday to Wednesday based on the amount of travel we have to do compared to Swansea," Allardyce said. "We could have played on Tuesday, which would have given us the right opportunity to recover to play in the Premier League on Saturday, which is a 12:45 pm kick-off against Tottenham having traveled 1,800 miles for three away games. That's a good headline there.
"I am interested in the welfare of players, which is at great risk at this stage of the season and you have seen it with the amount of injuries that have occurred at this time."
Though Allardyce grousing over fixture congestion is no rarity, it is hard not to sympathise with his complaints given Sunderland's building injury problem. John O'Shea and Seb Larsson are both doubts for Wednesday's fixture, while Younes Kaboul, Adam Matthews and Jack Rodwell are out. Swansea, on the other hand, have no reported injury problems.
After an initial flurry from striker Bafetimbi Gomis, goals have been the biggest problem for the Swans this season - only last-place Aston Villa have managed fewer than Swansea's 17 in 20 games.
However, the head-to-head omens are good for Wednesday's hosts: they have lost just once in the last 15 league meetings with Sunderland. Gomis and Jermain Defoe accounted for the goals in the reverse fixture in August, a 1-1 draw at the Stadium of Light.