LONDON (SE) - Two of the Premier League's bottom three meet at the Stadium of Light on Tuesday evening when Sunderland host Reading.
The game was originally scheduled for August, but was called off due to a water-logged pitch. While many would have expected Reading (1-6-8) to be in a relegation scrap four months later, few would have predicted such a poor start for big-spending Sunderland. The Black Cats (2-7-6) have lost five of their last seven in the Premier League and are currently on a run of just four wins in their last 28 - a record worse than that which saw off Steve Bruce as manager.
Speaking after Saturday's 3-1 home defeat to Chelsea, Sunderland defender John O'Shea refused to accept that the midweek game was a relegation decider at such an early stage of the campaign.
"The league doesn't end after the Reading game, fortunately," said O'Shea. "We know it's a massive game, every game at home now is going to be a massive game.
"We have to show the belief and the confidence we have shown in the second-half performances and the way we have taken the games to the opposition. But we have to do that from the start and not just wait for a goal to be conceded to show that reaction. We need to show that beforehand rather than a reaction."
Reading continued a disappointing run of results with a 1-0 defeat to fellow promoted Southampton on Saturday, leaving the Royals six points adrift of safety. The loss was Reading's fourth in a row, and manager Brian McDermott responded to the disappointing display at St. Mary's by urging his side to dig in.
"We have to be better than that, we need to combine a performance in all areas, everything needs to come together," said McDermott. "It was the poorest we've played for a while. We've got a game on Tuesday to pick ourselves up. Second half I thought we'd really step on but we didn't do that in the way I wanted.
"Anyone who's seen us over a long period of time will know we've always reacted well in games. We know the league we're in, we've got to keep our heads down, dig in and get on with it."
Sunderland have doubts over the fitness of top scorer Steven Fletcher, who has six goals, due to an ankle injury. However, after scoring five in his first four Premier League games, Fletcher has managed just a single strike in his last nine.
Wes Brown and Lee Cattermole are both long-term absentees for the Black Cats with knee injuries. Reading have doubts over Chris Gunter (hamstring), Jimmy Kebe (groin), Jem Karacan (knee) and Pavel Pogrebnyak (knock).
This will be just the 18th meeting between Sunderland and Reading. They last met in the 2007-08 Premier League season - with the home team winning 2-1 on both occasions. The Royals have won on just one of their last five visits to Sunderland.