Ahead of Saturday's trip to Wearside, we spoke with Joe from the Sunderland website Sunderland World. He gives us his views on the Black Cats' season so far, Gus Poyet, former Baggie Billy Jones, and
more. You can follow Joe on Twitter @j_m_tilbury and Sunderland World @SunderlandWorld.

Thoughts on Sunderland's campaign so far? Have you fared better or worse than you were expecting prior to the season starting?

I think it's gone to plan so far. We were looking for a consolidatory season after the roller coaster of last year and although things are a little rough at the moment, we haven't been in the relegation zone all season and on our day are fairly solid. If we managed to finish in the top half of the bottom half I'd say the season had gone as well as could have been expected.

What’s the club’s recent form been like?

The past few weeks have been fairly disappointing. The defeats against QPR and Bradford were frustrating because we were totally dominated by two teams who, on paper, we should have easily beaten. We went down without a fight and this lack of heart and passion has been worrying. We need to get back to being hard to beat and hopefully these games will force a reaction from the players.

Black Cats’ boss Gus Poyet has reportedly come under fire from a number of supporters recently. Does he still have the backing of the majority of fans?

I would say so, but just. His critics have been vociferous, if in the minority, although if results don't pick up things might get worse. I do feel as though his attack on the press after Bradford didn't help his portrayal in the media, and this added to the recent sacking of Paul Lambert has left him as the main target of managers of the teams in the bottom half. However his open letter to the fans seems to have been received well and demonstrates the majority of fans still back him.

What does Poyet need to do better?

I think Poyet needs to assume more responsibility in general. In the past few weeks he has attacked the fans and the media after poor performances and this hasn't gone down well with either target. He also spent the week leading up to Bradford complaining about the state of the pitch which was horrendous admittedly, but it was almost as if he was excusing our performance before the game had kicked off. In contrast, Roberto Martinez took his Everton side to play on an artificial pitch in midweek and instead of moaning he spent the preceding four days training on one and ran out 4-1 winners.

Sunderland are currently just three places and two points above the drop zone, is relegation a real possibility for the club or do you feel the squad has more than enough to avoid the drop?

I think anybody in the bottom 7 or 8 positions could go down. I think the focus went off us after the signing of Defoe and everybody assumed we were safe, and maybe this complacency affected the players. If we keep going the way we are going then relegation is a huge concern, however our home fixtures are kind to us, and if we get our act together and pick up some wins we should be alright come the end of the season.

How’s former Albion defender Billy Jones doing for you?

I don't think we've really seen Billy Jones at his best, except for our home game against Stoke when him and van Aanholt got forward really well and terrorised their defence. He's been out injured for a large chunk of the season and was being kept out of the team in recent weeks by Reveillere until he got injured. He should get a good run of games now if he stays fit, so hopefully we should see the best of him in this time.

Highlight of the season so far?

There hasn't been many, so definitely Newcastle away. The performance was pleasing and to beat them for the fourth time in a row with a 90th minute winner will live long in the memories of
Sunderland fans.

Moment or game you would rather forget?

I think the less said about
Southampton away the better. It was totally out of character for a team which hadn't conceded many goals and had been hard to beat at the time. We totally gave up in the second half and it was really embarrassing.

Player of the season so far?

Lee Cattermole without a doubt. He is like a wall in front of the back four and on his day he is the best English holding midfielder in the country. We are really missing him at the moment. A special mention also has to go to Costel Pantilimon, who has been brilliant since coming in for Mannone. He is an excellent shot stopper and collects corners with ease, something our best goalkeepers of recent years couldn't do.

Anyone been particularly disappointing?

Cattermole's replacement, Liam Bridcutt has been very poor. He lacks the physical presence to be successful at what he does and this was probably best demonstrated by his battle with Leroy Fer in the QPR game in which he was totally dominated by Fer's physicality. Jordi Gomez is also a shocking footballer. Although useful on the edge of the opposition penalty area, he is slow and reluctant to track back and help out defensively which contributed to the crosses for both of the goals in the same game.

What tactics and line-up can we expect to see from
Sunderland on Saturday?

Poyet has experimenting with formations of late, going 5-3-2 and 4-4-2, however most often this season we've gone 4-3-3 and I would expect him to do the same on Saturday. Pantilimon will start in goal, and the defence will probably be Jones, O'Shea, Vergini and van Aanholt. In midfield it will most likely be Larsson, Alvarez and either Bridcutt or Cattermole should the latter return from injury, with Defoe through the middle and Johnson and Wickham out wide. Although how many of these players retain their places after the cup is another question.

As for tactics, there is a need to win the game. We're slipping closer to the relegation zone and we need to arrest the slide, so I would expect a more direct approach, rather than the sideways and backwards passing that has frustrated the fans.

Prediction and thoughts on Saturday’s game?

I'm not expecting much from this game to be honest. It's easy to see we struggle when we come up against physical sides, so coming up against a Tony Pulis team is probably the last thing we want. I expect West Brom to take something from the game, although hopefully the last two games have given the team a bit of motivation to play well and get a draw. 1-1.


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