Belfast Telegraph

Cattermole out of Villa clash

Sunderland are without the suspended Lee Cattermole for Saturday's Barclays Premier League clash with Aston Villa at the Stadium of Light.

Cattermole picked up his 10th booking of the season in the recent draw at Hull and picked up an automatic two-match ban.

Adam Johnson remains suspended by the club and Emanuele Giaccherini (ankle) and Will Buckley (knee) are both definitely ruled out.

The Black Cats have managed only 23 goals in their 28 Barclays Premier League fixtures to date this season, a return which has left them perched perilously close to the relegation zone as the season reaches crunch-point.

Perhaps even more worrying is the fact that Gus Poyet's pool of frontmen has contributed just nine of those goals, a record striker Connor Wickham knows simply has to improve if they are to avoid a second successive scramble for top-flight survival.

Wickham told the Northern Echo: "I wouldn't say the criticism of the strikers is unfair.

"Strikers are going to get the most at any club because they are the money-makers, they are the ones that the fans are relying on to score the goals. That's where the criticism can come.

"Chances come and you do need to put them away. We are creating chances. The way we set up, we are setting up to attack at times when we get the ball. We do try to break as quickly as we can when we get the ball.

"We have done it in games but we have to get more consistent with it and get in to the box more. We will climb away from the rest of the group down there if we can start to put our chances away."

Scotland international Steven Fletcher is currently leading the way for the strikers with four goals - the same number as midfielder Adam Johnson - with Wickham having managed three and January arrival Jermain Defoe two.

Danny Graham is yet to score for the club, while Jozy Altidore, who left the Stadium of Light for Toronto in an exchange deal with Defoe in January, did so having found the back of the net just three times in 52 appearances in all competitions.

Sunderland face Villa - the only Premier League club to have scored fewer goals with just 15 to date - with three points crucial for both sides.

Villa, who ended a run of seven league defeats on the trot with a 2-1 home victory over derby rivals West Brom on March 3, currently sit three points clear of the bottom three with their hosts a point better off.

Christian Benteke will return to the squad after a hip injury.

Ron Vlaar (calf) will be assessed and Kieran Richardson (calf) is a doubt while Aly Cissokho (groin) is a likely absentee and Philippe Senderos (calf), Joe Cole (hamstring), Nathan Baker (knee), Alan Hutton and Jack Grealish (both suspended) are out.

Libor Kozak has returned to full training after more than a year out with a broken leg but is not yet match fit.

Boss Tim Sherwood says Villa are ready for the home straight and wants to avoid a photo finish in the relegation battle.

At the end of Cheltenham Festival week Sherwood is hoping Villa, who have never been relegated from the Premier League, can avoid being unseated.

He said: "I think it'll be a photo finish and I hope we're not in it.

"We're probably just coming around the corner but it's probably the longest run-in in racing history.

"All we're looking at is the next fence and that's Sunderland. After that we hope we can stay in the running. There might be a few who fall along the way and we're hoping that's not us."

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