Sunderland-Cardiff City Preview

TOM BENNETT (STATS European Football Writer)

Cardiff City will be reeling from problems on and off the pitch as they welcome Sunderland to the Welsh capital on Saturday.

Cardiff conceded three before halftime to lose 3-0 to Southampton on Boxing Day, making it just one win in seven for the Bluebirds. Despite their on-pitch problems, it is still the drama behind the scenes that has left Cardiff reeling over Christmas, with fans continuing to protest against the behaviour of owner Vincent Tan. However, manager Malky Mackay refused to criticise the fans - many of whom have been very vocal in support of him during the extended spat with the club's owner.

"Our fans are the lifeblood of the club," said Mackay. "When I'm gone and the owner is gone, the fans will still be supporting the team.

"They are intelligent people who have got their own opinions about the football club. But I know they will get behind the football team like they have always done from the first day I have arrived there."

Sunderland remain bottom of the Premier League, but broke their road duck in stunning fashion at Everton on Boxing Day thanks to a Ki Sung-Yeung first-half penalty. That win left the Black Cats three points from safety, and first-team coach Charlie Oatway credited manager Gus Poyet for turning around the club's season after the chaos of the opening months under Paolo di Canio.

"Our immediate priority was to stop getting beat," said Oatway. "It was as simple as that - stop conceding goals and try to win football matches. When Gus and Tanno (assistant manager Mauricio Taricco) came in at Brighton, they tried to stop them leaking goals and we've tried to do that here as well. I wouldn't say steady the ship, but get the way we want to play and how we intend to cope with the Premiership and the players in it.

"I'm not saying we've managed to completely do it, but I think you can tell a bit of a difference. Slowly but surely, we're getting there, I feel. But we need results."

Cardiff have injury doubts over Craig Bellamy (knee), while Sunderland are expected to be missing Kieren Westwood (shoulder) and Carlos Cuellar (hip).

Only Crystal Palace have scored fewer goals at home than Cardiff's eight in nine games. Sunderland have mustered a league-low three road goals this season.

This will be the first meeting between Cardiff and Sunderland since the creation of the Premier League. The clubs have met six times in the second tier in the last decade, with the Bluebirds winning three, Sunderland winning two and one draw.

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