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Slaven Bilic backs Sam Allardyce to save Sunderland

West Ham UnitedWest Ham United
SunderlandSunderland
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FT
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Slaven Bilic has backed his West Ham predecessor Sam Allardyce to save Sunderland from relegation.

The Hammers can push Sunderland closer to the drop when Allardyce makes his first return to Upton Park following his summer departure on Saturday.

However, the Black Cats are just a point from safety following a 2-2 draw at Liverpool and their surprise 2-1 win over Manchester United last time out.

Hammers boss Bilic, whose side have no such worries in seventh spot, said: "He's got a good chance. They are still there, not adrift in a position like Aston Villa.

"He has improved the squad, they are very organised and showing quality and character. They got four points from Liverpool away and Manchester United at home - any club in the world would take that.

"They are organised, stubborn, but they have quality on the break. There is still a long way to go and they are there. They definitely have a good chance to stay up."

Bilic received a midweek boost with the news key midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate's red card against Blackburn in the FA Cup had been overturned.

Kouyate was dismissed by referee Jon Moss for bringing down Adam Henley as he attempted to run through on goal, although the Rovers defender had clearly over-run the ball.

Having avoided a suspension Kouyate is free to play against Sunderland, and Croatian Bilic praised the appeal system in this country which allowed the decision to be rescinded.

"It was obvious," he said. "A player can be sent off for a nasty challenge, or to prevent a guy from scoring a goal. But it wasn't a bad challenge so the question is was it a goalscoring opportunity?

"It was clear it wasn't. He wouldn't have scored even if Cheikhou hadn't touched him. We hoped, and we expected, it would be withdrawn.

"It's great to have that in England. In other countries you can't appeal, they won't even discuss it. The referees are humans, but no matter what the situation is they can change it.

"That's very important because the stakes are so high. It's very good for English football."

Striker Andy Carroll is also available after a groin problem while right-back Sam Byram returns after being cup-tied.

Meanwhile, Allardyce has put his Sunderland players on red alert as they attempt to shackle man-of-the-moment Dimitri Payet.

The 28-year-old France international has made a blistering start to life in the Barclays Premier League since his B£10.7million summer switch from Marseille, and turned in a fine individual display in the Hammers' 5-1 FA Cup demolition of Blackburn, in which he scored twice.

Allardyce has cited Payet's contribution as the main catalyst for the strides the club has taken under successor Bilic, and he knows he poses a major threat to the Black Cats' hopes of extending their unbeaten run to three games.

The 61-year-old said: "He's one that we have to watch - but there are many players from West Ham that we need to look at.

"There's no doubt about it, he's been the outstanding difference because while he was injured, it was probably the worst run of results Slaven has had when he wasn't playing.

"It shows what a difference one special player can make to your team."

The Hammers have not lost on their own park since suffering back-to-back defeats by Leicester and Bournemouth in August, and that represents a major challenge for a resurgent Sunderland.

Allardyce said: "What gives you belief is drawing at Liverpool after being 2-0 down, and beating Manchester United gives you more belief.

"There's an extra belief in the camp at the minute - but we have got to go out and take that belief and make it a reality. We have got to perform on Saturday at the highest level.

"We have got a task to go and meet head-on and try to get a result. The only way we will do that is by being at our best and paying attention to one very exceptional player for them at the moment.

"They have got a lot of exceptional players, but Payet at the minute is the game-changer for them, he's the game-winner for them."

The Wearsiders have been boosted by the return from injury of defenders Younes Kaboul and Billy Jones and midfielders Jan Kirchhoff and Sebastian Larsson.

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