Sunderland V Aston Villa at Stadium of Light : Match Preview
Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill is keeping faith in his strike force ahead of the Barclays Premier League clash with his former club Aston Villa.
The Black Cats boss watched his side crash out of the Capital One Cup to local rivals Middlesbrough on Tuesday night, with a 1-0 defeat meaning Sunderland's goals tally stands at only 10 from 11 matches across all competitions this season.
While Sunderland have only lost one Premier League game, a 3-0 defeat by champions Manchester City, six draws and one win have left them in 14th place with only nine points from eight games.
O'Neill knows his side need to start producing more up front, with five of the six league goals having come from summer signing Steven Fletcher, but the Northern Irishman is refusing to panic and focus too much on the negatives.
Fletcher typically has Adam Johnson, Stephane Sessegnon and James McClean supporting him, but the flair in that formation has yet to bring the reward that might have been expected.
"This season we haven't created enough clear-cut chances in as many games and I think that's the biggest thing," O'Neill said.
"If you're taking a ratio of chances there's a bigger likelihood that if you create eight chances in a game, there's a fairly decent chance that you will take one or two of those. We need to create more chances.
"I believe we have the ability to do so and I'm far from having lost faith in anyone. Quite the opposite. We've got the capabilities to do that."
O'Neill has seen no new players join his injured list ahead of the game.
Defender Wes Brown, who is out with a long-term knee injury, has suffered a setback in his recovery which could see him ruled out for a few more weeks, and central defender Titus Bramble (hip flexor) still remains a doubt.
Meanwhile, Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert still refers to O'Neill as "gaffer" and has acknowledged the influence the Northern Irishman has had on his career.
He spoke to former Villa boss O'Neill before taking charge of the midlands club during the summer and still contacts him if he needs advice.
Lambert said: "I played under Martin for five years. Martin and Ottmar Hitzfeld (his manager at Borussia Dortmund) are two of the best managers I ever played under.
"They are two different types of people but two of the best managers for me.
"Celtic at that time needed someone like Martin to drive them back up and he certainly did that. It's a huge club and thankfully he took it on.
"I absolutely loved playing under Martin.
"He could just get the best out of people. That was his biggest thing. His man-management was brilliant.
"It was brilliant and the team that we had at Celtic in terms of the lads I played ... it was a fantastic era.
"If I ever need any advice off him I can just pick up the phone. But you learn from your own mistakes and I haven't spoken to him of late."
Left-back Joe Bennett will return after serving a one-game suspension for his sending-off against Norwich last weekend.
But midfielder Karim El Ahmadi will be missing through suspension after receiving his fifth booking of the season during the Capital One Cup win at Swindon on Tuesday.
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