It was only a few weeks ago when we were all wondering how Andy Carroll would fit in to our new style of play.

The fear was that Sam Allardyce would ditch what had been working all season so he could accommodate the big man up front again, resorted to the route one football with Carroll up front on his own.

But instead he’s found a way to use Carroll to his strengths without reducing our threat going forward or out new found style. It took a couple of games for it to work, but the win against Swansea last weekend displayed a mixture of two styles coming together to create something of an ultimate winning formula.

Initially we were excited at the prospect of seeing Carroll and Enner Valencia partnered up top together. But by the end of the game it turned out to be Carroll and Diafra Sakho who looked like the most potent striker partnership we can look forward to enjoying this season.

Sakho changed the game when he came on, injected pace, energy and a real goal threat, and it was clear he and Carroll had this connection between each other. Sakho’s goal came from a brilliant Carroll flick on (which he clearly meant) and you have to wonder how much damage they can both do to opposition defences together for the rest of the season.

That starts with an away trip to Sunderland today. The Black Cats have drawn nine of their opening 15 games so far this season, which means you automatically consider a point as a decent result at the Stadium Light this afternoon.

But this is the same Sunderland that shipped eight goals at Southampton and, although they’ve tightened up at the back at got positive results against Chelsea and Liverpool recently, who have to fancy us for all three points today.

With just Mark Noble our only injury problem today, we’re pretty much at full strength. We’ve seen how good we can be at full strength already this season, as well as how good we can be with five key players out, so we should extend our residence in the Premier League’s top four today.

Prediction: Still top four.

Team News

Sunderland (14th, 15 points)

Steven Fletcher is expected to start up front after recovering from a back injury, while Sebastian Coates is back in the side after having to sit out the draw with parent club Liverpool last weekend.

Emanuele Giaccherini and Billy Jones are still sidelined.

West Ham United (4th, 27 points)

Mark Noble misses out again with an achilles problem.

Diafra Sakho is expected to return to the starting line-up, while Diego Poyet could make the bench for a chance to face his dad – Sunderland boss Gus Poyet.

Potential Starting XI

Last 10 Meetings

31 Mar 2014Premier LeagueStadium of LightW 2-1
14 Dec 2013Premier LeagueBoleyn GroundD 0-0
12 Jan 2013Premier LeagueStadium of LightL 3-0
22 Sep 2012Premier LeagueBoleyn GroundD 1-1
22 May 2011Premier LeagueBoleyn GroundL 3-0
5 Dec 2010Premier LeagueStadium of LightL 1-0
21 Sep 2010League Cup 3rd RoundStadium of LightW 2-1
10 Apr 2010Premier LeagueBoleyn GroundW 1-0
31 Oct 2009Premier LeagueStadium of LightD 2-2
4 Apr 2009Premier LeagueBoleyn GroundW 2-0

Match in Numbers

4 – West Ham have failed to score in four of their last six Premier League games against Sunderland

5 – Sunderland are without a win in five matches

12 – The Hammers have scored 12 headed goals this season, twice as many as any other side.

8 – And eight of Andy Carroll’s last 12 goals have been headers

5 – The Black Cats have been involved in five goalless draws already this season

7 – And Gus Poyet’s side have failed to score in seven of their last 11 top-flight outings

100 – If he scores, Kevin Nolan will bring up 100 career league goals

Fan Predictions

Head-to-Head (all competitions)

PlayedWonDrawnLostForAgainstGD +/-Win %