What a busy lad Pete Sixsmith is. Not content with his paper round, Father Christmas duties (planning starts tonight) and gracing the pages of Salut! Sunderland, The Observer and ESPN, he finds time to answer questions for fan sites such as Claret and Hugh, friendly Hammers folk who have helped us out, too. Here’s what Pete made of their questions …
Sean Whetstone, Claret and Hugh:
What are your expectations for Sunderland this season? Where will you finish in the league?
Sixer: We have greater expectations than Charles Dickens and like Pip’s they never quite come to fruition. This year could be the year where we fail to dodge the rocky road to Reading and Rotherham. Hope for 17th; fear 20th.
Which three teams do you think will suffer relegation and who will lift the title this season?
When I am feeling optimistic (2 per cent of the time) I say Hull City, Middlesbrough and Swansea City. For the other 98 per cent, insert Sunderland for Swansea. I think Tottenham Hotspur have a very good chance of winning the league. Excellent manager and some very good players.
How do you rate West Ham’s manager Slaven Bilic first season in charge, how will he fare in his tricky second season after such a bad start?
I thought that Bilic did very well last season and you played some really good football. Not sure about the players he brought in during the summer though. At Sunderland, we don’t know very much about “tricky second seasons”, partly because we never have a good first one and partly because the manager tends to leave halfway through.
What league position can West Ham realistically achieve this season?
West Ham look like a top half side and should certainly be clear of any relegation trouble.
If you could have any current West Ham player in your first team who would you choose and why?
Payet is the obvious one, although I do think that he may find the standards that he set last year difficult to maintain. He has vision and can change a game – not many like that. But he could be another Cabaye or Ben Arfa; one good season and he thinks that he has done it. We shall see.
Which Sunderland player will be key to your hopes this season?
Jermain Defoe. If he scores, we have a chance of winning. Nobody else can. He is the only forward we have who is fit.
What is Sunderland’s achilles heel? Where will they need to improve on this season?
How many heels can we have? How long have you got? Our greatest problem is a terrible lack of concentration. How can Joe Allen be left unmarked in the box to head home a goal? He was last week. How can Romelu Lukaku be allowed to stroll through and score unhindered? He was when we played Everton. How can Christian Benteke be left unmarked in the 93rd minute to head a winner. You get the picture?
What is your view on Jermain Defoe? Has he still got his magic boots?
He is a very popular figure in the club with a great attitude. He has bought into the club almost as much as Niall Quinn did. We may see him as Chairman in five or six years time. He misses a few but you have to be there to do that. We would be utterly lost without him.
How do you expect Sunderland to setup against West Ham on Saturday/ Team/formation prediction?
We will play 4-5-1 with Defoe up front and will try to push the full backs forward. Pickford; Manquilli, Djilibodji, O’Shea, van Aanholt (Jones if van Aanholt is unfit); Watmore, Rodwell, Pienaar, Ndong,Khazri; Defoe.
What is your score prediction for Saturday?
We need a win – so 2-0 to you.
* Pete Sixsmith has been following Sunderland since 1962 and writes for www.salutsunderland.com where you can see loads of match buildup.