Crystal Palace-Sunderland Preview
Connor Wickham has fired a brace for sputtering Crystal Palace ahead of his return to the Stadium of Light on Tuesday night to face a woeful Sunderland side the Eagles have already lost against.
Wickham revealed Saturday that a talk with boss Alan Pardew boosted his confidence as he scored twice in that day's 3-2 defeat to West Bromwich Albion. The striker had one goal in his first 13 appearances for Palace.
"I always want to score goals and I'm pretty pleased tonight that I've got two," he told the Eagles' official website. "It wasn't enough but hopefully it can be a confidence builder for the rest of the season."
His critics may venture that Wickham's second-half brace only came after a listless first half in which Palace fell behind by three goals. Some of those critics will be on Tyneside, where Wickham spent his previous four seasons. Although he had five key goals during the Black Cats' great escape two seasons ago while being named Premier League player of the month in April 2014, he only managed to match that total in 36 league appearances for them last campaign before taking his talents south.
Pardew is hoping that he has enough reinforcements to boost a side that has gone winless in their last 10 league matches (0-3-7) in sharp contrast to their sparkling FA Cup form that has propelled Palace to the quarterfinals. Yannick Bolasie returned Saturday from a hip injury to his customary left side of the pitch, with Wilfried Zaha on the right for an attacking unit that has been bolstered by the addition of Emmanuel Adebayo.
The Eagles have shipped 19 goals in their last eight league fixtures.
"We've had to force the game at times because of the defensive problems we've had," Pardew said. "We don't need to now. We can play our normal game and defend and that's what we'll do going forward and I think it's very, very important that we get back to what we're about."
Palace sit in 14th place on 32 points while Sunderland are 19th on 23. The Black Cats are keen on their chances of cutting the gap between these sides to six after a 1-0 victory at Selhurst Park on Nov. 23, as Jermain Defoe scored in the 80th minute after a gaffe by Eagles defender Scott Dann.
Sunderland's 1-0 defeat Saturday at West Ham United came on the heels of a training camp in Dubai thanks to a gap in the fixture list. Boss Sam Allardyce watched his charges amass a 13-9 edge in total shots in their final trip to Upton Park although they came up empty.
"We have to recover because Tuesday now becomes a real pressure pot against Crystal Palace because everyone will be saying 'We have to win,' so that's what we must try to do but if we play like this hopefully we can," Allardyce told Sunderland's official website. "The lads need to take confidence from the performance but also be more ruthless and more clinical next time."
The Black Cats have allowed 51 goals to match Norwich City for the league's worst defence. They haven't kept a clean sheet in their last 13 league matches.
Palace left back Pape Souare is eligible to return after sitting out over the weekend due to a red card suspension.