Sunderland have been blessed with an almost entirely clean bill of health ahead of this Saturday's (7 May) Premier League visit of Chelsea. Only second-choice right-back Billy Jones is likely to miss the match through injury, meaning that manager Sam Allardyce has nearly a fully fit squad to choose from as his relegation-threatened side fight to avoid a costly first return to the Championship since 2007.
A last-gasp Jermain Defoe penalty secured a share of the spoils at Stoke City last weekend, but a narrow victory for Newcastle United over Crystal Palace left the Black Cats 18th and one point adrift of safety. They do boast the luxury of a game in hand over their north east rivals, although a failure to secure a positive result against Chelsea could prove fatal with Rafael Benitez's side currently on a four-match unbeaten run ahead of their trip to already-relegated Aston Villa. Norwich City are also still capable of avoiding the drop, yet face a difficult task against Manchester United at Carrow Road.
"We are all aware of the big responsibility that we have to try and claim more points than Newcastle and Norwich," Allardyce was quoted as saying by BBC Sport at a pre-match press conference. "We have three games to do it, starting with Chelsea in the hope we can hit our top form and try and win the game.
"If we don't win and either Norwich or Newcastle do, the pressure increases dramatically then. You wonder how the players would hold up under the pressure. They are big, big games for all three clubs at the weekend."
With a woeful title defence having long since ended and any hopes of retaining their place in Europe also scuppered, ninth-place Chelsea have seemingly little to play for ahead of their meeting with Sunderland. However, the squad will no doubt be eager to lay down a marker ahead of Antonio Conte's arrival after Euro 2016 and they demonstrated their battling qualities with an aggressive 2-2 draw at home to Tottenham Hotspur on Monday night (2 May). That result handed the title to leaders Leicester City and also led to both clubs and Spurs midfielder Mousa Dembele being hit with Football Association (FA) charges after a flurry of controversial incidents both during and after the match.
Sunderland have lost 19 of their last 23 meetings against Chelsea, including a 3-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge in December that saw Branislav Ivanovic, Pedro, Oscar and Fabio Borini all register on the scoresheet amid a hostile atmosphere that saw frustrated home supporters barrack their own players following the sacking of Jose Mourinho.