Given that they started the season with a 12-point deduction, it is hardly surprising that Bolton Wanderers are bottom of League One at Christmas.
Their 3-2 win against fellow strugglers Southend United on Saturday allowed them to pull with two points of the Shrimpers but they remain 15 points adrift of safety and facing a hard, uphill battle to survive.
They travel to the Stadium of Light on Boxing Day to face a Sunderland side that are themselves in something of a crisis.
Phil Parkinson’s side have slipped six points away from the top six and nine points adrift of the automatic promotion places.
A return to the Championship is not out of reach yet but it is certainly slipping away.
Both sides will likely be hoping that a strong January transfer window can help them to turn their fortunes around but they will meet before either manager has the chance to strengthen their squad.
With that in mind, here is the starting XI we expect Keith Hill to field against Sunderland on Thursday.
Remi Matthews has been Bolton’s clear first-choice goalkeeper this season and that looks unlikely to change against Sunderland.
The Black Cats have not scored more than one goal in a game since October, so you feel a strong performance from the x-year-old could give the Trotters a huge chance of victory.
Ahead of him, Adam Chicksen is likely to return after recovering from the illness that kept him out against Southend, which will allow Josh Earl to partner Jake Wright in central defence, with Josh Emmanuel on the right.
With Bolton on the road to a top-half opponent, it seems likely Hill will go for the slightly more conservative 4-1-4-1 set up, with Bridcutt protecting the back-four.
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Jason Lowe and Luke Murphy have formed a strong central midfield duo this season and look likely to play ahead of the Bolton captain.
George Dobson will be missing in central midfield for the Black Cats after his red card against Blackpool, so Lowe and Murphy may fancy their chances against a weakened midfield.
Joe Dodoo and Thibaud Verlinden have emerged as Hill’s first-choice wide men in recent weeks and look set to reprise their roles, though the latter’s days at Bolton may be numbered with his loan set to expire in January.
36-year-old Daryl Murphy has been in fantastic form for the Trotters, scoring six in 10 League One games, and will surely be the man leading the line.