There was something canny significant about Crystal Palace’s away victory with ten men which seemed to draw out our road to recovery to what feels a never ending length. I don’t necessarily think the result has made our survival any less palpable, perhaps it was better they did win, however seeing us slip back to the Premier League basement does hack away at the weary, old optimistic side of me. I hear a lot of people talk to me about how much easier we have things at home over the second half of the year which surely blind sights the difficulties we will face away from home.
We probably won’t need 40 points to stay up this season, but let’s hypothetically say we do. There are 13 home games left on the calendar for Sunderland and using my exceptionally blagged mathematical skills that means there are 39 points up for grabs at the Stadium of Light. Chelsea, Tottenham, Southampton and Everton still have to visit, so for us to be relying on getting 33 points out of 39 games is just a tad optimistic. Remembering of course the hacked up optimism I currently possess I would be more than happy if we managed to get 23 points.
Getting 23 points however leaves us with a pretty huge problem – needing 10 away from home. If we have had the toughest start to the fixture list at home, surely we have had close to the easiest you could hope for away. One point is all we have.
Fortunes aside, we have lost to no fewer than three of our relegation rivals already away from home and I don’t need to start pulling out the startling stats on our goals conceded and disciplinary records beyond Wearside. We haven’t visited any of the ‘top teams’ yet so still on the fixture list are Everton, Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool, Spurs, Chelsea and Manchester United. That in itself makes away games against Aston Villa so much more important.
So am I just trying my hardest to further emotionally abuse my fellow Sunderland fans? No, in fact I do have some comfort to offer. Despite my diminishing optimism, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Gus Poyet really is that light. His two seasons in the Championship with Brighton – Poyet’s away record was impressive to say the least. He managed to draw points from a hefty 65% of those away games, winning a more than respectable 30%. Obviously, those statistics are relevant to a different football team in a different league, but I don’t think it would be particularly naïve to presume his approach as Sunderland manager would be the same. After all, the differences between home and away matches is, to a certain extent, the same across all of the English game.
The problem is it has to start now. We must maintain our very recent excellent home form but back it up with some kind of respectable away form starting from now. I find it pretty incredible that we are not yet a third of the way through the season yet I am already pointing out that games are running out. If we have to wait until the New Year for our first away win I am pretty certain my fledgling optimism will be sucked away by a black hole of pessimistic misery.
December and January are going to be an absolutely astronomically important month for us. The fixtures represent excellent opportunities to pick up points both home and away. Away from home we have Aston Villa, West Ham United, Everton, Cardiff and Fulham. Everton aside, we have to be picking up an absolute minimum of four points from those matches, preferably five or six. Those points need to be backed up at home against Chelsea, Spurs, Norwich, Villa, Southampton and Stoke where we really need to be aiming as high as 10 points. The January transfer window will obviously have a huge impact too, but a discussion for another day perhaps.
Pretty petrifying, but we can do this.
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