Sunderland recorded only their third Premier League draw of the season at home to Liverpool recently and can add another against Stoke City at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.
Our best bet for this match: Draw at 12/5 with BetFred
The Black Cats remain in the relegation zone, but there is no question they have improved significantly from November onwards and they are giving themselves a chance of staging yet another of their perennial escape acts.
They had a bit of luck on their side when holding Liverpool to a 2-2 draw on Bank Holiday Monday, both of their goals coming from penalties scored by Jermain Defoe and certainly the first one was a particularly generous award from referee Anthony Taylor.
But there is definitely more hope now for manager David Moyes and his threadbare squad which, at the time of writing on Tuesday morning, did not appear set to be bolstered by any imminent January transfer window signings.
While it has largely been all or nothing in Sunderland’s league results this term, they did play out another stalemate against Burnley in the FA Cup last Saturday and face a Turf Moor replay next Tuesday so are certainly becoming tougher to beat.
Jermain Defoe of Sunderland in action during a pre-season friendly match (Getty Images)
That suggests the Wearsiders should be a sterner proposition for Stoke than in the reverse fixture in October which finished in a 2-0 home win at the bet365 Stadium by virtue of a Joe Allen double.
After a strong autumn, the Potters have gone off the boil since mid-December and now have only one victory in their last seven games, bowing out of the FA Cup in a 2-0 home loss to Championship club Wolves despite fielding a strong team.
Manager Mark Hughes could not be accused of disrespecting the world’s oldest knockout competition as there looked to be nothing wrong with his line-up, but some players he selected simply did not turn up with Bojan and Gianelli Imbula both hauled off at the break.
It looks as though Bojan’s days at the club are numbered and it’s doubtful he will be picked for this trip to the North East, though Hughes does have plenty of other mercurial attacking options and will hope at least one of them turns on the style.
The bookmakers have got Stoke as favourites, but they are simply not in good enough form to back at odds of 6/4 and a share of the spoils looks the most likely outcome.