Sunderland v Tottenham preview
HOW THINGS have changed since Darren Bent last faced Spurs, and missed a crucial penalty kick on his return to White Hart Lane. Sunderland would have leapfrogged Tottenham with victory on November 7 - leaving them just one point off...
PREMIER LEAGUE PREVIEW BY BEN PEARCE
Sunderland v Tottenham Hotspur
HOW THINGS have changed since Darren Bent last faced Spurs, and missed a crucial penalty kick on his return to White Hart Lane.
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Sunderland would have leapfrogged Tottenham with victory on November 7 - leaving them just one point off fourth place after 12 games.
Bent arrived in N17 on equal terms with his former team-mates but left with his tail between his legs and, since then, the two clubs have accelerated away from each other.
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Two weeks after their defeat at the Lane, Steve Bruce's side embarked on a dismal run of 14 top-flight games without a win, taking just seven points from a possible 42.
Highlights in that 14-week spell included a 7-2 defeat away at Chelsea, as well as an FA Cup elimination at the hands of basement boys Portsmouth.
Bruce's boys have certainly had a nightmare season away from home, winning just one of their 16 top-flight fixtures on the road - at Bolton on the opening day - and losing 11.
Unfortunately for Spurs, the reason that Sunderland are not firmly embedded in the basement battle is their home form - 28 of their 35 points have come at the Stadium of Light, where they have only lost twice.
The Black Cats have beaten Liverpool and Arsenal on Wearside this season, and held Manchester City to a 1-1 draw last month.
The other reason why Bruce's boys are in relative comfort in mid-table is Bent, who has scored almost half of their league goals - 20 out of 41.
That makes him the second-highest English goalscorer in the top flight, six behind Wayne Rooney but three ahead of Jermain Defoe and Frank Lampard.
The 26-year-old will need no motivation as he prepares to face Defoe and Peter Crouch, two months before the World Cup.
He is not the only ex-Spurs player who will want to prove a point, and Sunderland have no less than six ex-Spurs players on their books - including Alan Hutton, who is on loan from Tottenham and therefore unable to play.
Ironically, had he stayed at Spurs in January, the Scotland international would surely be starting against Sunderland due to Vedran Corluka's injury. Instead he will probably watch 19-year-old Kyle Walker make his second Spurs appearance in a crucial game.
Andy Reid, Steed Malbranque and goalkeeper Marton Fulop are Spurs old boys, and Fraizer Campbell has scored two goals in his last three games in place of the injured Kenwyne Jones - who could replace him again on Saturday.
Fulop is unlikely to feature due to the stunning form of Craig Gordon, who will also be gunning for Spurs.
The 27-year-old broke his arm at the Lane in November, and slammed the "poor" challenge from Defoe.
JournalSport verdict: This is another very tricky test for Spurs, who have failed to win at the Stadium of Light in their last four attempts.
But these precedents have meant little this season and, if Tottenham can win at Blackburn and Stoke, they can win here.
With Defoe champing at the bit and Tom Huddlestone and David Bentley also fit again, Spurs should outscore their hosts - Gordon has only excelled because his shaky defence have kept him so busy.
And motivation works both ways - Tottenham will certainly not want their top-four challenge to be derailed by a bunch of their own cast-offs.
Prediction: Sunderland 1 Spurs 2