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Where Will The Points Come From?

As Sunderland were beaten at Wembley despite a valiant display before being unceremoniously dumped out of the FA Cup on Sunday afternoon by Hull City, attention can now focus solely on the daunting task of avoiding relegation from the Premier League, but where will the points come from?

Things can only get better?
Things can only get better?
Matthew Lewis

The irony is however that despite elimination from both domestic cup competitions Sunderland now face, cliché alert, ten "Cup Finals" from now until Sunday 11th of May in their quest to become only the second side since West Brom to avoid the drop having been bottom of the table at Christmas.

Make no mistake, Sunderland have improved markedly since the arrival of Gus Poyet and his bid to not only steer the club to safety but also instill his brand of passing/possession football onto a struggling side has been nothing short of remarkable.

There have also been some equally outstanding results along the way, including derby victories over the old enemy, a hoodoo breaking win at Goodison Park, the now customary 1-0 defeat of Manchester City at home and a comprehensive 4-1 win away to relegation rivals Fulham.

The club's exploits in the Capital One Cup also helped to inspire some confidence among the squad which undoubtedly benefited their feats in the league.

However, there have also been a number of disappointing results along the way, the 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa on New Year's Day, the scrappy goalless draw against Norwich at the Stadium of Light and the 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Swansea being some of the most unsatisfactory.

We are now in the business end of the season and whilst some attractive, pleasing on the eye football wouldn't go amiss; you certainly wouldn't begrudge a boring 1-0 win in the remaining fixtures.

So where will the points come from?

Before we get into the fixtures as they stand, there are two postponed games due to Sunderland's exploits in the cup and freak storms that hit Manchester back in February which will probably lead to a fixture pile up towards the end of the season.

Sunderland Vs West Brom

West Brom are a side in turmoil and Sunderland fans must hope that the beleagured Pepe Mel is still in charge of the Baggies come their eventual visit to the Stadium of Light. Mel may only have been in charge for less than two months but is yet two win a game in his seven at the helm and there being no sign of any revival.

Three points

Manchester City Vs Sunderland

Despite coming unstuck at home to Wigan in the FA Cup Quarter Final this weekend, Manchester City are a juggernaut at the Etihad and come the end of the season when this fixture is likely to be re-arranged, Pellegrini's men will surely be scrapping at the top of the table and I don't fancy our chances against a potentially ruthless Manchester City.

No points

Now, into the fixtures as we know them:

Sunderland Vs Crystal Palace

Arguably the most important fixture of the entire ten. If Sunderland are to make any strides towards survival you feel that they must get off to a winning start this weekend against Crystal Palace.

Palace have improved remarkably under the stewardship of Tony Pulis and currently find themselves sat in sixteenth position, two points above the drop zone and with a game in hand.

Quite possibly the most worrying aspect of the upcoming game is the mentality of the crowd. If we had gone straight into this game on the back of the Capital One Cup Final defeat then I would have fully expected a full house to have roared their side on. However, it is fair to say that Sunday's disaster has rather taken the wind out of Sunderland's sails, leaving many disappointed with Gus Poyet's approach to the fixture.

The game is likely to be an extremely nervy affair, with few goals, however with a return to the side for the key players which were rested on Sunday and the added creativity that the return of Ki Sung-Yeung and Adam Johnson will bring I believe we will just about have enough to beat Crystal Palace, but it won't be pretty.

Three points

Norwich Vs Sunderland

Norwich, sat on 29 points, are just about safe you have to feel, however they are treading on thin ice and could very easily be dragged back into the scrap. The Canaries results have been a veritable mixed bag of late but are finding goals hard to come by.

This can be any area Sunderland can look to capitalise. If John O'Shea and Wes Brown can marshal their troops and help Vito Mannone to a clean sheet then it is simply a matter of the forwards taking their chances at the other end of the field. Easier said than done I know but with the guile and movement of Fabio Borini I'd expect him to get in and behind Sebastian Bassong and co. at least once or twice.

One point

Liverpool Vs Sunderland

Liverpool have quite simply been one of the most, if not the, most entertaining sides to watch in the Premier League this season. The ease with which they destroyed Arsenal a few weeks ago with a swashbuckling performance of real swagger and intent was quite simply stunning.

It is no surprise therefore that this is the toughest fixture which Sunderland face in April and is a case of requiring Brendan Rogers' side to have a bad day at the office and for Sunderland to play to their full potential if they are to get a result.

Unfortunately I can only see a comprehensive victory for the reds as things stand.

No points

Sunderland Vs West Ham

April is concluded with the visit of West Ham United. Sam Allardyce's side enjoyed a startling upturn in fortunes during February, managing to put together a run of four successive victories which has seen them climb well away from the danger zone and comfortable into mid table mediocrity.

Sunderland will quite likely be looking to bounce back from a defeat at Anfield and hopefully this fixture can prove to be an opportunity to do just that. With a bit of luck West Ham may well be a little complacent and with little to play for and this may well be a case of the home side's need is more than that of the visiting side.

Obviously West Ham can pose their own, well documented problems and the likes of Kevin Nolan will always be motivated against Sunderland, so this won't be an easy game by any stretch of the imagination.

One point

Tottenham Hotspur Vs Sunderland

I think it would be fair to say that Spurs have failed to reach the heights that many predicted following their summer spending spree of the fee received for Gareth Bale, with many of their big names failing to make the expected impact.

That said, Tim Sherwood has a very good side at his disposal and in the shape of a reinvigorated Emanuel Adebayor a goalscorer he can depend upon.

A spot in the top four looks to be just out of Tottenham's reach as things stand but are likely to face competition for fifth from both Manchester United and Everton.

Spurs were humbled at Stamford Bridge at the weekend with Sherwood critical of a lack of guts and character in his side. If Sunderland are to come away from White Hart Lane with a positive result you feel it will exactly guts and character which will see them earn a vital point or three, but it won't be easy.

No points

Sunderland Vs Everton

Roberto Martinez has earned a number of plaudits this season and quite rightly so for the manner in which he has got his Everton side playing. In Ross Barkley they have one of the brightest young sparks in the sport and possess an absolute powerhouse of a forward in Romelu Lukaku.

Everton, much like Spurs, will likely be scrapping for fifth spot in the Premier League and will be, as always, tough opposition and Sunderland may very well need a fair amount of luck from this fixture.

One point

Chelsea Vs Sunderland

Sunderland managed a memorable victory over Chelsea in the Capital One Cup, albeit via extra time, and will no doubt take some confidence from that recent victory however, Chelsea are a different beast at Stamford Bridge where their record is simply phenomenal.

Gus Poyet will undoubtedly be up for the game as he returns to his old stamping ground where he made his name in the English game which will hopefully count for something or I may very well be clutching at straws.

Much like Liverpool, I can't see Sunderland coming away from Stamford Bridge with anything to show for their efforts, barring another miraculous night such as that which had Bolo Zenden dad-dancing by the corner flag.

No points

Sunderland Vs Cardiff

Following three tough games against Spurs, Everton and Chelsea, Sunderland will be expecting to make the most of a home fixture against Cardiff, the final game in April. This is quite simply a must win game in the grand scheme of things, absolutely no excuses. If we find ourselves losing at home to Cardiff, no disrespect to the Bluebirds or whatever they're called nowadays, then we deserve to be relegated - its as simple as that.

Three points

Manchester United Vs Sunderland

Into May and the home stretch of the season, the end will be well and truly in sight come our trip to Old Trafford and the relegation picture will be a lot clearer.

Obviously much has been made of the turbulent first season in charge of the Champions which David Moyes has endured and indeed many a side have been able to come away from Old Trafford with a full complement of points that it is no longer a surprise result.

Sunderland famously booked their spot in the Capital One Cup Final with a remarkable, unforgettable win on penalties away to Manchester United not too long back now and, like many a side this year, will be hopeful that they can exploit the deficiencies of David Moyes' side.

It will be interesting to see how a Manchester United side react to playing fixtures such as this at a time of the season where they are usually looking to secure the three points in a bid for a Championship and hopefully with little to nothing to play for complacency may set in which Sunderland can capitalise upon.

No points

Sunderland Vs Swansea

The final day of the season. Sunderland vs Swansea will either prove to be a nail-biting afternoon in the sun or a complete non-event depending upon how well results have gone in the previous nine fixtures.

It has been a strange season for Swansea. Brian Laudrup was for a long time deemed to be some kind of football managerial deity of which fellow gaffers could only aspire to be. However, a few iffy results and some murmurings of discontent behind the scenes and he was cast onto the scrapheap.

The Swans sit in fourteenth position at the time of writing and drew their last league fixture at home to Crystal Palace.

The best scenario for Sunderland would involve Swansea having already secured their Premier League status, which they probably will have, and have nothing to play for.

In fact, for while Swansea are still a decent enough side on their day, this is pretty much the ideal fixture should Sunderland be left needing the points come the final day of the season.

Should Gus Poyet require all three points, expect the usual nerve-shredding, heart-attack inducing dramas that always encapsulate such fixtures.

At the end of the day however, I'd expect Sunderland to beat Swansea, even in an atmosphere of extreme tension.

Three points

So there we have it. By my reckoning I believe Sunderland have the potential to pick up fifteen points between now and Sunday 11th May - a figure which would see Gus Poyet's side finish on thirty-nine points

The discussion as to how many points will be enough is one which is hotly debated, this season especially. I believe that thirty-six will be the magic number this term, which would see Sunderland beat the drop with three points to spare by my calculation, With Gus Poyet achieving the seemingly impossible.

My tips for the drop?

Fulham look doomed, as to Cardiff by my reckoning, which leaves just one unwelcome spot to be filled, with West Brom my pick to complete the trio.

Obviously there remains an awful lot of football to be played between now and May, we simply have to hope we have more performances reminiscent of Wembley and none evocative of the KC Stadium shambles.

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