As big matches go, this one has to be up there with the biggest so far this season.

Having followed up the 3-0 victory over Fulham with two defeats, we find ourselves practically where we started. Hovering above the relegation zone and flirting dangerously with a battle for survival really isn’t what we had in mind at the beginning of the campaign, but that’s exactly where we are and it’s time the players faced up to the challenge.

There’s been a lot of speculation surrounding Sam Allardyce’s job recently, which isn’t surprising, but I can’t help but feel sacking him now would prove to be a huge mistake. In all honestly, you can’t properly judge the man on his ability to turn things around when he has had to deal without Andy Carroll. Yes, tactics and substitutions have been very suspect, but a lot of that was forced on by the absence of Carroll.

Big Sam’s job aside, it’s literally is win-or-bust today at the Boleyn Ground. With Manchester United and Arsenal waiting for us over the Christmas period, the last thing we want or need is to be in the bottom three heading in to those fixtures.

And without Kevin Nolan in the midfield we may finally see the likes of Ravel Morrison and Mohamed Diame played in their best positions, which is a pretty exciting prospect when you consider how much talent they both have.

Sunderland have been poor this season. So poor, in fact, that they’ve only managed two away goals all season. That should give us the confidence needed to get at them from the off and put them under pressure. They’re bottom of the league and already odds-on for relegation, so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t take advantage of that today.

If we start well then we should look forward to three precious points. But if we stutter and hesitate in front of goal, then it could be yet another long afternoon ahead.

Verdict: Three huge points secured.  

Team News:

West Ham United (17th, 13 points)

Guy Demel and James Collins are both doubtful due to illness, while Stewart Downing is out with a gashed calf.

Winston Reid, Andy Carroll, Mladen Petric  Ricardo Vaz Te are all out with long-term injuries.

Kevin Nolan starts a three game suspension after being sent off at Liverpool last weekend.

Sunderland (20th, 8 points)

Keiren Westwood and Carlos Cuellar both miss out through injury, but Lee Cattermole, Emanuele Giaccherini and Fabio Borini could feature.

Last 10 Meetings:

Match in Numbers:

7 – The Hammers have kept seven Premier League clean sheets this season, which is only bettered by Everton (8).

5 – Sunderland have conceded five own goals so far this season, more than any other top-flight side.

11 – Gus Poyet’s side have lost 11 points from winning positions this season, which is a divisional high.

9 – Sunderland are without an away league win in nine attempts.

1 – West Ham have won just one of their last eight Premier League games.

4 – The Black Cats are unbeaten in four matches against the Hammers

50 – Carlton Cole needs one more goal to bring up 50 league goals for the Hammers.

Head-to-Head (all competitions):

PlayedWonDrawnLostForAgainstGD +/-Win %

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