A quick note before we get into this week's Q&A with Gavin from The Roker Report. We got in touch before the busy Christmas period, and decided to get this out of the way early. Therefore, all my questions and Gavin's answers all date back to before the West Ham and Norwich matches. And thanks to the woeful loss against the Canaries, relegation is all but certain, so a few of these questions might not apply as well as they would have a few weeks ago. Still, it's not like these are totally irrelevant - especially as it's very possible that Sunderland may be joining us in the Championship next season.
19th against 20th. Not exactly the way either of us hoped the season would turn out. Villa are currently in a worse position than Sunderland, but hypothetically, say they were even on points. Which club would be more likely to scrape themselves over the line to safety?
Gavin: I'd say us if I'm honest. Our squad is battle-hardened having staved off relegation now for a number of seasons. Villa's squad not only lacks quality - like ours does, of which there is no doubt - but also the experience of scraping by. If I'm honest, I don't rate either club's chances very highly. The task at hand is an unenviable one for both Sam Allardyce and Remi Garde and I feel that if either club are to pull away suddenly it will be as a result of making some big signings in the January window.
Last time our clubs met, it was Sherwood vs. Advocaat. This time, it's Garde vs. Allardyce. How did you feel about Advocaat's decision to step down and Allardyce's appointment? Can he keep them up?
Gavin: Advocaat should never have been given the job. In hindsight, giving a man a one year contract shows a lack of long term planning and it was clear from the off that he just wasn't all that interested in being here. The club weren't prepared to back him financially and many of the players that we expected to sign and were on the cusp of doing so - namely Loembarts from Zenit St Petersburg, Fer from QPR and Ramos from Borussia Dortmund - fell through due to failed medicals. The summer window was frustrating for both the fans and the manager and I wasn't at all surprised when he walked.
If we are to stay up then Sam Allardyce is the perfect man for the job and I'm behind him one hundred percent. The problem he faces is that he's working with a squad of players that he inherited and because we've not had a pre-season under him he's still trying to find out how to get the best out of the players and which formation and tactics bring the best out of his players. I'm wary of saying whether or not he'll keep us up, because with the run of games we find ourselves in the middle of right now we could soon find ourselves well behind the rest of the pack.
This is being written and answered a few days ahead of time, before Sunderland's matches against Man City and Liverpool, and before Villa's matches against West Ham and Norwich. If, and this is a big if, Villa manage to get a result or two in their next two fixtures, this match could determine who will be bottom of the table.
Gavin: Yep. And with Manchester City playing so badly at Arsenal they'll be looking at the game against us as a chance to torture someone and get themselves back on track. I'm really not looking forward to it. The hope, I guess, is that we look at how teams like Bournemouth, Norwich and Watford have played recently and go into both games with the mentality that we can go there and win the game. I'm not particularly confident, but Sunderland do have this habit of totally surprising you. Let's wait and see.
By the time this match is played, we'll be into the January transfer window. Who will Big Sam be looking to bring in? What positions need to be addressed?
Gavin: Pretty much every position, that's the trouble. Our goalkeeper is playing poorly. We have three right backs and they're all far from convincing. We lack depth in central defence and whenever Younes Kaboul drops out of the team we tend to struggle and have had to play Billy Jones at centre half, a position he's just not suited to. In the centre of midfield we've got decent options but the likes of Ola Toivonen, Jack Rodwell and Jordi Gomez just aren't good enough, so we could do with another body there. Up front, we could do with a real quality forward - couldn't we all, though?
Who could be allowed to leave in January? Jeremain Lens has been fined two week's wages for not participating in the post-match fitness for unused substitutes, and looks to be on the way out. Anyone else?
Gavin: Lens should be bombed out the club for the way he's acted in recent weeks off the field. We've got a lot of rubbish and shifting it on wont be easy. I wouldn't be surprised to see Vito Mannone, Danny Graham, Will Buckley and Valentin Roberge leave - the four of them need to be playing regularly elsewhere.
Speaking of transfers, which Villa player would you want the most for Sunderland?
Gavin: It's tough. No offence. I'll go for Micah Richards. I'm not sure how he's done for Villa since arriving there but we could do with extra players in that position and he's still fairly young and would probably suit playing in our five man defence.
There's two ways I see this game playing out. With both sides desperately needing a win, it'll be an open, end-to-end, nerve-wracking match with plenty of chances for both sides. Or it'll be a gross, disgusting, boring, scoreless draw that will prove beyond a doubt that these are the two worst teams in the league. Which do you think is more likely?
Gavin: I think we'll see the first. Although we're struggling we still look good going forward and with it being a must win game I can see both managers targeting it as an opportunity to collect three points. I can't speak for Villa, but I'd guess the fact that you've only scored fourteen goals means that your forwards aren't doing the business thus far. That said, we're always awful when we play Villa and we tend to struggle more against the sides around us. Regardless of league position though, I think it should be a good game.
If you combine Sunderland and Villa's current point total, we'd have 19 points, a league position of 15th, behind Bournemouth on goal difference. But hey, we'd be above Chelsea, so that's something.
Gavin: Chelsea looked to have turned a corner against us at the weekend. You could tell the pressure was off and with a good manager in Gus Hiddink coming in I think you'll see them pull away now. That's my main fear, looking up - some of the teams that are struggling have more than enough quality to put a run of good results together and I don't want to be cut adrift by the time we play Arsenal in the cup. Swansea might be in the bottom three but I just don't see them staying there. Same goes for Newcastle - as awful as they are, it seems McLaren has stumbled across a way of getting his team to win games. I can only hope Sunderland do the same.
Huge thanks to Gavin and his crew! Be sure to check out my answers to his questions on The Roker Report.