West Ham United-Sunderland Preview
By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO
(AP) -- LONDON (SE) - West Ham United are happy with their results so far in 2013.
Their upcoming fixtures may lead to them being thrilled even further.
Following Joe Cole's dazzling return, West Ham may get another strong performance from the midfielder as they attempt to capitalize on a meeting with relegation-threatened Sunderland on Saturday.
The Hammers (7-5-8) began 2013 with a 2-1 victory over Norwich City on New Year's Day, and followed that up with last Saturday's 2-2 draw against Manchester United in the third round of the FA Cup.
Despite allowing the tying goal in stoppage time against the Red Devils, the results were a dramatic change after West Ham were 0-1-3 over the previous four matches.
"People might look at 2-2 and ask how many chances they missed but they haven't created an awful lot and that for us is a really good thing to build on," manager Sam Allardyce told the team's official website. "It is a great effort and after a disappointing December with the injury problems running onto some bad results, we have turned that around against Norwich."
Allardyce may be delighted if West Ham can make the most of a seemingly advantageous schedule that includes two teams mired in the relegation race. After facing 17th-place Sunderland (5-7-9), the Hammers will host last-place Queens Park Rangers next weekend.
Having Cole in the lineup may improve West Ham's chances of going a third match in a row without a defeat.
Cole started his career with the Hammers in 1998, and returned to the club this month via a free transfer from Liverpool. He debuted in style against Manchester United, assisting on James Collins' first two goals of the season.
"Joe speaks for himself. He hasn't had the luck with playing games of late but you can see the quality he has," captain Kevin Nolan said. "He set up the two goals and he's loving being back home already."
Nolan may love being back on the pitch against the Black Cats. The midfielder has five goals in his last three matchups against them, netting a hat trick in a 5-1 win with Newcastle on Oct. 31, 2010.
His latest performance versus Sunderland was much more dramatic, as he scored three minutes into stoppage time to secure a 1-1 draw in London on Sept. 22.
"We're looking forward to playing Sunderland," Nolan said. "I myself have had some good times scoring against them.
"It will be a tough match. It is never an easy game for anyone at the Stadium of Light, but we are delighted with how we have started the year."
West Ham's last visit to Sunderland resulted in a 1-0 defeat on Dec. 5, 2010.
The Black Cats are 0-1-2 since stunning reigning Premier League champions Manchester City 1-0 on Boxing Day, perhaps providing some relief of the pressure mounting on manager Martin O'Neill.
The squad may have done it again last weekend, erasing a two-goal, second-half deficit to tie the Championship's Bolton 2-2 in the FA Cup.
Steven Fletcher, though, hasn't scored in four matches after tallying his team-leading eighth goal in a 1-0 win over Southampton on Dec. 22. He may get going against West Ham since he has three goals in five career meetings, including Sunderland's lone goal Sept. 22.
The Black Cats are expected to have midfielder Alfred N'Diaye available after he was acquired from Turkey's Bursaspor for an undisclosed fee earlier this week.
"Alfred is a strong, powerful young player and as such can offer us more strength in depth," O'Neill said. "He will give us options and I'm delighted that we have been able to bring him to the club."
Updated January 10, 2013