Sunderland will look to move closer to safety on Saturday by consigning Ryan Giggs to a first defeat as interim Manchester United boss.
A downbeat Gus Poyet stated after April’s 5-1 hammering by Tottenham that it would take a “miracle” for his side to avoid relegation from the Premier League as they languished at the foot of the table.
The Wearside club have enjoyed a remarkable resurgence since then, though, drawing 2-2 at title favourites Manchester City and pulling off a stunning 2-1 win at Chelsea.
They then rose to the occasion to hammer fellow strugglers Cardiff City 4-0 in a crunch clash at the Stadium of Light on Sunday, a victory that moved Poyet’s men out of the bottom three for the first time since February.
United will be a different proposition under Giggs, who has temporarily stepped in after the sacking of David Moyes and savoured a 4-0 victory over beleaguered Norwich City in his first game in charge.
There is a new-found belief that Sunderland can pull of a great escape, though, and they have fond memories of their Capital One Cup semi-final against United in January – when they won on penalties.
Striker Fabio Borini, scorer of two penalties in their last two games, is bullish over his team’s chances of staying up and Saturday’s trip to Old Trafford holds no fear for the on-loan Liverpool striker.
“We have two more home games left and one away and we need to keep believing,” he told the club’s official website. “We’ve made a big step forward and must keep doing the same.
“We must go to Manchester like we did in the cup semi-final, our visit to Manchester [City] a couple of weeks ago, and the game at Chelsea.
“It doesn’t matter who we play against, we play for ourselves first of all.”
Borini has struck up a great understanding with Connor Wickham, who has been given a new lease of life by Poyet and heads to Old Trafford with a spring in his step after scoring five goals in his last three games.
History is not Sunderland’s side, however, as they have not beaten United on their own patch since way back in 1968.
United still have a chance of qualifying for the Europa League – they are six points behind Tottenham with a game in hand and far better goal difference.
Rafael da Silva (knock) is expected to miss out and the champions will likely be without striker Robin van Persie (knee) from the start once again, though the Dutchman is back in training and optimistic of a place on the bench.
Poyet could name an unchanged side, although midfielder Emanuele Giaccherini staked his claim for a start by scoring one goal and setting up another after coming off the bench against Cardiff.