Sunderland v Blackburn Rovers; Barclays Premier League; Stadium of Light; Sunday, December 11th; 13:30
Nicklas Bendtner is doubtful for Sunderland after picking up a groin strain in the defeat to Wolves last Sunday. Fellow forwards Connor Wickham and Frazier Campbell are both out with serious knee injuries so Martin O'Neill's striking options are limited.
Goalkeepers Simon Mignolet and Craig Gordon are out with nose and knee complaints respectively so Kieren Westwood will continue between the sticks. Michael Turner is also unlikely to feature.
Ruben Rochina and Martin Olsson face late fitness tests for Blackburn. Rochina has not trained this week due to a combination of a muscle injury and the removal of his wisdom teeth, whilst Olsson has missed the last four games with a hamstring complaint.
Long term absentees Vince Grella and Ryan Nelsen also both miss out for Rovers whilst Steven Nzonzi is serving the last of his three match ban.
O'Neill looking forward to bench return
Martin O'Neill cannot wait to take charge of his first Barclays Premier League match since May 2010 for his new side Sunderland.
The Northern Irishman has been out of the game since leaving Aston Villa before the first game of last season 16 months ago and is chomping at the bit to get back on the bench for the relegation scrap.
"I couldn't be more excited and it's something I've been looking forward to over the last couple of days," he said.
"But I'm sure it will take a back seat within a minute. The most important thing is for the team to perform well against Blackburn and win the game."
O'Neill is happy with the quality of his squad and is hoping that he can inject some belief into his new charges.
"We have some excellent players at this football club and there is a good spirit.
"Confidence is a bit low, but that's natural when you're losing matches especially when there's passages of play when you've done well it's even more galling to lose games."
Under-fire Blackburn boss Steve Kean is hopeful that is side can use their 4-2 victory over Swansea last Saturday as a springboard to move up the table.
In the next three games they face teams around them in the table and Kean wants to kick on.
"We've got a real nice run of games now," he explained, " I would like to think over the next three games, Sunderland, West Brom and Bolton, we will get ourselves out of the position we are in.
"We feel as if we are in a false position just now but we are here and we have got to keep winning games."
Kean is happy with his options in attack and thinks Rovers will tighten up at the back when they get players back fit.
"We will always score goals and once we get a full unit back in the defence we will be much better."
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