Sunderland-Hull City Preview
The threat of relegation is looming for both Hull City and Sunderland ahead of their meeting at the KC Stadium on Tuesday.
Steve Bruce's Hull (6-8-13) and Gus Poyet's Sunderland (4-13-10) both lost on Saturday to remain fully entrenched in the bottom six of the Premier League. Between them the two clubs have won just two games in their last 19, but they have scraped together enough points in the last month to pull away from the bottom three.
Hull succumbed to a solitary Peter Crouch goal in a 1-0 defeat to Stoke City last weekend, ending an unbeaten run that had seen the Tigers pick up seven points in three league games since the end of January. Bruce was left to rue the fact that Crouch was not flagged offside for his match-winning goal - a decision that the Hull boss described as "disappointing" - but admitted his side didn't work hard enough to make it three back-to-back wins in February.
"We didn't do enough going forward and didn't do enough when we've got the ball, but we showed a resilience and toughness to get something out of it," Bruce said. "Who knows, a point away from Stoke might have been what we needed and just kept the run going. Always to get something away from home in this league is terrific.
"It's going to go, in my opinion, right to the wire. In the month of February we've picked up a few decent points and for me we should've got another point here."
Sunderland had lost just one in four going into last weekend's matches, but were beaten 2-0 at Manchester United on Saturday with Wayne Rooney scoring both goals for the Red Devils.
The game that also featured an apparent refereeing error with match official Roger East appearing to send off the wrong man (Wes Brown rather than Jon O'Shea) - something that has been retrospectively denied by the professional referees' body.
The club, though, lodged a successful appeal to get Brown's red card rescinded, and the defender will be available for this match.
Despite some signs of recovery with recent performances Poyet's Sunderland have still won just two of their last 17 league games, while scoring goals has also been a real problem for the Black Cats - only misfiring Aston Villa have netted fewer than Sunderland's 22 in 27 games.
Additionally, the team suspended England international Adam Johnson after multiple news organisations reported the midfielder's arrest on suspicion of sexual activity with a girl under 16. The club's lone statement confirmed Johnson's suspension with no further comment.
Sunderland remain at least 10 points away from their minimum requirement for the season and Poyet knows that his team will have to start winning games soon.
"Now is the time and the next two games are our time," Poyet said. "We cannot keep going without winning games and the next two will be key moments in the season."
Emanuele Giaccherini will miss the rest of the season with an ankle injury, but Poyet may be able to call upon Jack Rodwell, Billy Jones and Will Buckley for the trip to Hull - all of whom face late fitness tests.
The Tigers are still without defenders James Chester and Liam Rosenior, while Robbie Brady, Mohamed Diame and Robert Snodgrass are also out. However, striker Nikica Jelavic could return from a knee injury in time to feature on Tuesday.
Jelavic scored a late goal to seal a 3-1 win for Hull when these teams met at the Stadium of Light earlier in the season. Adam Johnson had opened the scoring in the first minute, only for Hull to respond with three answered goals and extend their dominant run over the Black Cats. Bruce's side won all three of the meetings between the two last season (home and away league wins and a 3-0 FA Cup victory) and didn't concede a goal in any of those matches.