With the game against Southampton this Saturday representing the final opportunity for points until the end of the month, the fixture represents a great chance to put further pressure on our relegation rivals. David Moyes will take his boys to New York for a bit of bonding next week as others battle it out in the FA Cup, so crossing the Atlantic with further points in the bag would be a huge boost for when the lads get back.
Not that points on Saturday will be easy. Southampton have a fine side though they have been weakened in recent weeks and are in the midst of a minor slump – beaten in their last two Premier League fixtures by Swansea and West Ham. The Saints back line has taken a double-whammy with the loss of Virgil Van Dijk through injury and Jose Fonte sold to West Ham.
But, with a trip to Everton to follow in a fortnight and then a home fixture with Manchester City after that, Saturday already feels like a ‘Sunderland-must-get-something’ game. Especially when you consider who our nearest relegation rivals play this weekend. Hull travel to Arsenal, Crystal Palace play Stoke, Middlesbrough host Manchester City and it’s Leicester and Swansea’s turn for a six-pointer as they face each other.
Saturday’s victory over Crystal Palace and the point gained against Tottenham a few days earlier has meant Sunderland have turned from looking half-doomed to being back-in-the-mix. And with how tight the Premier League table now looks, no side is yet looking as if they need a shot of life support.
The prospect of exiting the bottom three has traditionally been something of a step too far for Sunderland in recent relegation battles right until the very end. It makes for an encouraging prospect of course - that resolve which never goes away - but it doesn't half make for grey hairs and stressful seasons. This one will go down to the wire too most likely, but a good start would be jumping up to gasp for air beyond the drop-zone on Saturday evening, for a fortnight's respite from the battle.
This season, we’ve only spent a week bobbed up out of the relegation spots – after the point gained against Saturday’s opponents at St Marys in August. Last season was the same, Dick Advocaat’s side entered the bottom trio as soon as the season began and Sunderland only emerged again for brief periods before finally gasping to 17th under Sam Allardyce towards the end of April.
We’ve had some barnstorming relegation battles, but each season always feels that bit worse than the one which went before. Right now, this one feels as tight as the old duck’s ar*e but there is a renewed positivity in the air following Saturday’s excellent victory. But then we’ve been here before.
The most recent chance to scramble up to 17th was just three weeks ago, when Stoke City came to the Stadium of Light. On that occasion, the visitors had the three points sewn up by half time.
And the last home victory against Watford in December had David Moyes' side within a point of fourth-bottom only for a run of two points in the six games that followed see that chance slip away again.
Chances will have to be taken and nettles will have to be grasped at some point and we've made a start. Wouldn't it be nice to continue that with a win on Saturday.