Tottenham Hotspur-Sunderland Preview
By TOM BENNETT
STATS European Football Writer
(AP) -- LONDON (SE) - Two in-form teams meet at the Stadium of Light on Saturday afternoon, when Sunderland Athletic host Tottenham Hotspur in the final round of Premier League games in 2012.
Sunderland (5-7-7) have been in excellent form over the Christmas period, winning three of their last four games to pull clear of the relegation zone. A 1-0 win away at Southampton prior to Christmas was followed by a shock victory over Manchester City by the same scoreline on Boxing Day, and manager Martin O'Neill credited the fans for their role in the win against the reigning Premier League champions.
"The crowd were right with us, and they were terrific all afternoon," said O'Neill. "It gave us a lift to know we'd taken a couple of thousand fans to Southampton just before Christmas. And the supporters followed that up with tremendous backing against Man City. We felt they would be behind us and they were, and it is a great help to the players when they are as loud and supportive as they have been.
"Three wins out of four is great, but we still have a long way to go, and we know that. The win over City gives us some points, and a day or two of respite. We have a few more points on the board, which is great, and now we have to look at keeping going."
Visitors Spurs (10-3-6) have also enjoyed an excellent Christmas, and their run of five wins and one draw in the last seven games has taken them into the top four heading towards 2013. A 4-0 win at Aston Villa on Boxing Day saw Gareth Bale smash a hat trick, and manager Andre Villas-Boas was full of praise for his star winger after the game.
"He is up there with the best," said Villas-Boas. "He is showing tremendous skills and talent.
"I think he is improving every day - he is such a young player - and he is helping the team. He is one of our major assets. His personality is wonderful, he is going through an excellent moment of his professional and personal life, and we are benefiting from that."
Sunderland have doubts over John O'Shea (illness) and Wes Brown (knee), while Lee Cattermole is out with a knee problem. Spurs' injury crisis has subsided, with Younes Kaboul the only guaranteed absentee with a knee injury. Benoit Assou-Ekotto (ankle) and Clint Dempsey (groin) face late fitness tests.
Bale's three goals against Villa took him up to sixth on the Premier League scoring charts with nine, while teammate Jermain Defoe is fifth with 10. The Lilywhites have yet to draw a game away from home this season, while only league leaders Manchester United have won more games and scored more goals on the road than Villas-Boas' side.
Only Aston Villa and Queens Park Rangers have managed fewer goals at home than Sunderland's 10 in nine games.
Just a single goal was scored in the games between these teams last season, with Spurs winning 1-0 at White Hart Lane before playing out a goalless draw at the Stadium of Light in April. A 2-1 win for the Londoners in 2011 is their only win at Sunderland in the last seven league visits.
Updated December 27, 2012