Preston boss Alex Neil expects Sunderland to be ‘fighting for their lives’ when he takes his side to the Stadium of Light on Saturday.
After facing play-off rivals Fulham and Bristol City in their last two games, North End switch their attention to a Black Cats side propping up the Championship.
Neil thinks it is ‘baffling’ that Sunderland are bottom of the table and battling to avoid successive relegations.
So he is demanding the same level of performance on Wearside that his side put in over recent games .
Neil said: “A lot of the time these are the hardest games.
“Expectation plays its part – people see a team low down in the table and think we just need to turn up to beat them.
“That might be an outward perception but it is certainly not the case here at the club.
“When you look at some of the teams Sunderland have got results against – they drew with Middlesbrough and beat Fulham in December.
“You look at their squad and everyone before a ball was kicked would have expected them to be in a better position than this.
“It is really difficult to put your finger on why Sunderland are where they are.
“To find them in the position they are is baffling.”
The teams drew 2-2 at Deepdale in September, with Josh Harrop and Jordan Hugill on target for North End.
George Honeyman and ex-PNE loanee Aiden McGeady scored for Sunderland.
Said Neil: “I expect to see a team fighting for their lives when we go up there.
“They have players who used to be here – there are a lot of ties and connections.
“One of Sunderland’s best performances was probably at our place.
“It was a tight, tough game and we had to work hard to get something.
“I’m sure it will be the same at the weekend and we will have to get our approach spot on again.”