Injury-hit Cardiff welcome a threadbare and struggling Sunderland side to Wales on Saturday lunchtime. Mark O'Haire previews the encounter...
"City have the quality in their threadbare squad to seal a 12th home success in 18 outings here."
Cardiff v Sunderland
Saturday 13th January, 12:30 GMT
Live on Sky Sports
Cardiff's dip in form
Two days before Christmas, Cardiff sat four points off leaders Wolves with fans daring to dream of automatic promotion. But following four consecutive defeats over the holidays after just three losses in the previous 22 league games, the Bluebirds trail Wolves by 14 points and have dropped to third in the table.
Injuries have hit Neil Warnock's squad hard and the City boss was dealt further blows when Joe Ralls and Sol Bamba pulled out of last weekend's 0-0 FA Cup draw with Mansfield. The Bluebirds enjoyed the better chances at their Cardiff City Stadium base but home goalkeeper Brian Murphy made the save of the match.
Joe Bennett and Sean Morrison both returned against the Stags and Ralls and Bamba should both recover to take part on Saturday with Warnock desperate for the Welsh outfit to re-find their winning formula fast.
Sunderland manager Chris Coleman felt his patched-up side were too naïve and nervous during last weekend's 2-0 FA Cup defeat at near neighbours Middlesbrough. Josh Maja headed off the crossbar for the Black Cats whilst Tylar Browning's header was expertly tipped over in a meek performance.
Goalkeeper Jason Steele was arguably at fault for both goals but with few options, Coleman can't make wholesale changes this weekend. The ex-Welsh boss said, "We're in a dogfight and you don't go into a dogfight with kittens" and his pleas for reinforcements at least led to Chelsea defending Jake Clarke-Salter arriving on loan.
Elsewhere, leading goalscorer Lewis Grabban has been allowed to cut short a season-long loan spell and the rock-bottom visitors will surely miss his presence in the final third as they fight to avoid back-to-back relegations.
Cardiff have been chalked up as attractive [1.81] favourites as they bid for a first Football League double over Sunderland since the 1970/71 season. The Bluebirds may have lost their last four Championship outings - Neil Warnock's worst run as a manager since 2009 - but they remain fiercely competitive.
The hosts have always proven difficult to score against and blessed with a happy knack of turning potential defeats into draws and routine draws into unlikely wins, City have the quality in their threadbare squad to seal a 12th home success in 18 outings here.
Sunderland may have kept clean sheets in three of their last four away league games - as many as in their previous 40 combined - but the Black Cats are also in the midst of a major injury crisis and have picked up only three points from a possible 30 when facing the division's top-eight clubs this season.
Neither Cardiff nor Sunderland are the most proficient or consistent in front of goal and although the visitors were amongst the league's more entertaining outfits earlier on in the campaign, only two of the Wearsiders' last eight Championship clashes have seen surpassed the two goals line.
With Cardiff's 26 contests in 2017/18 averaging a total of 2.35 goals per-game, plus the Bluebirds delivering 17/31 (55%) Under 2.5 Goals in home games under Neil Warnock's watch, opposing goals would be the obvious selection.
Staked: 215.00 pts
Returned: 240.03 pts
P/L: +25.30 pts