Bottom of the table or not, holiday excitement has not been lacking for Sunderland.
They'll try to ensure a month without a Premier League loss and overcome their home futility when Aston Villa come to the Stadium of Light on New Year's Day.
After coming back from two down in the 83rd minute to earn a dramatic 2-2 draw at Cardiff City on Saturday, the Black Cats (3-5-11) haven't lost in their last four matches, though the six points haven't been enough to bump them from last place.
Steven Fletcher scored in the 83rd and Jack Colback's stoppage-time equaliser gave the Black Cats four points in two away fixtures after an improbable 1-0 win at Everton on Boxing Day.
"Forty-eight hours between two away games back-to-back is tough, travelling takes its toll," defender Phil Bardsley told the club's official website. "... If, before Christmas we were offered four points from our games at Everton and Cardiff away we'd have taken it. They're massive results for us and we deserve them as well."
The Black Cats had kept three straight clean sheets prior to Saturday, but further help on the backline is on the way. Sunderland announced Spanish defender Marcos Alonso will join the team on loan from Fiorentina for the rest of the season, though he isn't expected to debut until Sunday's FA Cup match against Carlisle United.
"Marcos is a player that I have known well for a very long time," manager Gus Poyet told the club's official website. "He was desperate to come and play for Sunderland and he is a player I am excited to work with."
Villa (5-5-9) played to a 1-1 draw with Swansea City Saturday to snap a four-game losing streak, though they were hoping for more. What looked like a potentially fruitful festive stretch with Crystal Palace and Swansea coming to Villa Park followed by this weekend's trip to the Stadium of light has started with one point earned in the first two matches.
"Ideally, we want to play better, there's no two ways about it," Villa manager Paul Lambert told the club's official website. "But on Saturday it was important to stop that sequence of losing. That was paramount. The lads did that. Do I want Swansea to come to our place and have that much of the ball? No. But the great thing about the Swansea game was that they came out after the Boxing Day defeat and they never capitulated."
Lambert's selections against Sunderland remain a mystery, though there is a chance striker Christian Benteke and centre back Ron Vlaar could return from injuries. Benteke has missed three matches but returned to training Monday.
"He feels OK within himself," Lambert said. "He's back and hopefully he'll go and do what he did for us at the tail end of last year, which is when Christian started to score all of his goals - at the turn of the year."
Vlaar has been sidelined for five, and with fellow defender Ciaran Clark set to miss the match due to suspension, there's more reason for Lambert to consider him.
Vlaar's last full match was Villa's scoreless draw with Sunderland at Villa Park on Nov. 30.
Sunderland have taken seven home points this season, matching Fulham for worst in the Premier League.
Villa, meanwhile, have earned 12 of their 20 points away from Villa Park.
Villa took six points against the Black Cats a season ago by a 7-1 aggregate.
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