Sunderland vs. Birmingham: Carling Cup Preview
The Carling Cup may be well down the list of priorities for the so called ‘Big Four’ but the presence of 19 Premier League sides in round three ensures it will be competitive and plenty of teams will be eyeing a place at Wembley come March.
There are fascinating looking ties too, Leeds versus Liverpool at Elland Road jumps off the page, but from a betting perspective the clash between Sunderland and Birmingham gets my attention and the Black Cats are worthy of support at a standout 1.91 with Betfred in a competition manager Steve Bruce should be targeting.
These two experienced differing fortunes on the weekend when three points were at stake, Birmingham gaining a deserved victory at Hull while Sunderland were beaten at Burnley, but I won’t be paying too much attention to those efforts with this one-off encounter in mind and the home side look a class above Tuesday’s opponents.
Sunderland actually performed far better than the 3-1 score line at Turf Moor on Saturday suggests and having seen the in-form Darren Bent equalise a Gary Alexander penalty Bruce would have expected something from the game. They had more than enough possession to earn at least a share of the spoils but Burnley have started life in the Premier League in fine form on home soil, already beating Everton and Manchester United, and plenty of others will taste defeat in the north-west throughout the remainder of the campaign.
It wasn’t to be on Saturday for Sunderland but their strength has always been in front of their passionate home support and I expect that to prove the difference on a night when Birmingham might just have their attention focused on their huge clash with Bolton at St Andrews on Saturday.
Alex McLeish’s men face a Sunderland side that have scored seven goals and picked up six points at the Stadium of Light already this season and in anticipation of a prolonged relegation battle the Scottish boss could well chose to rest some of his key men. McLeish has a paper thin squad at his disposal and he’ll be loath to risk any of his first choice XI with a crucial trip to The Reebok on the horizon. >
Sunderland, runners-up in 1985, may chose to leave Bent at home but likely replacement Frazier Campbell will be looking to impress given the opportunity and Bruce has plenty of options throughout.
The likes of Andy Reid, Steed Malbranque and Kieran Richardson provide more than enough creativity from midfield and one goal may be enough for Sunderland against a Birmingham side that has managed just three so far in six top flight matches. The Blues have not been beyond this stage for three years either and everything looks in place for a home win.
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