No selection surprises for Sunderland’s relegation fight run-in

READY TO RETURN: Sunderland's Adam Johnson
READY TO RETURN: Sunderland's Adam Johnson

GUS POYET does not envisage any surprises with his team selection during the relegation run-in.

The Sunderland head coach made six changes for last Sunday’s FA Cup quarter final defeat at Hull City as he looked to give several of his key figures a breather - a decision which has received it’s share of criticism from supporters this week.

But Poyet admits that he is likely to rely upon a small core of players for the remaining 12 Premier League games after they have been largely responsible for giving Sunderland a fighting chance of remaining in the top flight.

And that is likely to spell the end of any experimentation with either personnel or formations, as was the case at the KC Stadium.

“Yes, there’s a core of players who’ve proven themselves. I’ve got it clear,” said Poyet.

“There’s nothing I’m going to try. I’m not going to go with anything new, strange or surprising. It’s going to be very simple.

“If you don’t have clear in your mind the nine or 10 players who are going to be starting most of the games by this stage of the season, you are either really bad as a manager or the group is really strange.”

Ki Sung-Yueng, Vito Mannone, Adam Johnson, Marcos Alonso and Wes Brown will almost certainly return to the starting XI against Crystal Palace tomorrow, with the latter resuming training this week along with Jozy Altidore, Craig Gardner and Valentin Roberge.

But Poyet’s main selection dilemma revolves around where to use Fabio Borini after the on-loan Liverpool forward was restricted to a substitute’s outing against Hull.

Poyet must decide whether to deploy Borini as a central striker or revert the Italian to a role on the left flank, although the Black Cats boss says he already has a clear idea in his mind.

“I’ve got options up front and I’m not going to give too much away,” he said.

“But I’ve got it clear in my mind.

“There’s maybe a decision to make in one or two positions, where there are small percentages.

“But that’s good for me because as soon as it is doesn’t work, the other one is in.

“I’m in a great situation because I’ve got the whole squad available.

“There’s going to be some disappointments in the dressing room, but we are in this all together.”

Victory against Crystal Palace this weekend would take Sunderland above the fifth bottom Eagles on goal difference, while still boasting at least two games in hand on those teams around them.

And Poyet has urged his side to make the most of that opportunity against a Palace side, who like Sunderland, have given themselves a real chance of remaining in the Premier League after looking certain relegation candidates early in the season.

The former Brighton boss added: “We were rock bottom when I took over and now with two months to go, we’ve got a great opportunity to get to the same points as Crystal Palace, with a couple of games in hand.

“We’ve got a great chance to take a big step forwards in winning this game, and that’s what I want. I want to see the team giving everything.”

“Tony Pulis (Crystal Palace manager) has been doing great and there are many players in that squad who haven’t had the chance to play in the Premier League for long.

“They won’t want to lose this opportunity of playing in the Premier League. They’re working their socks off and playing in a certain way, which we need to deal with.

“But we need to impose our game and make it count that we are playing at home.”