Gus Poyet has insisted Sunderland can't afford to be slow starters again if they want to avoid another season of abject misery.
The Black Cats boss inherited a dire situation of just one solitary point from the opening eight fixtures last October (he clearly counts his first game, against Swansea, as a remnant of the previous management), essentially giving himself just 30 games to scrape together a whole season worth of points to avoid the drop.
He told Sun FM that there simply cannot be a repeat this year:
It [starting the season on a level playing field] makes a massive difference.
I know it sounds quite stupid, but we need to start better than last year. Everybody knows that.
People say it's not going to be difficult. One point in eight games... if I'm worse than that, I'm not going to be here.
But it's clear that if you don't start well, you are playing catch-up all the time, and even if you get a good spell you cannot get out because sooner or later you are going to lose a game and be back at the bottom.
Personally, I don't think that Poyet got anywhere near the credit he deserved, nationally, for guiding Sunderland to safety last season. Had Harry Redknapp done the same he would probably be Prime Minister by now following a relentless campaign by the tabloids.
Let's look at it comparatively. That's always fun. We'll even do what Gus won't and include the Swansea game in his figures.
The following table shows the points achieved after the first 31 games of the season. It is imprecise in terms of conclusions given the endless variables involved in football, but it gives you a rough idea of just what Poyet achieved compared to other clubs in a similar time span.
|Sunderland (under Poyet)
|West Ham United
|West Bromwich Albion
As mentioned, the point of the table is not to draw conclusions, but to attempt to illustrate Poyet's point about the perils of playing catch-up, and the extent to which Sunderland had to out-perform their rivals to pull off a 'miracle' to give themselves a chance of survival just about does that, I think.
So here is to a level playing field. That most beautiful of gifts offered by the football gods every August. Please, please, PLEASE, don't mess it up this time Sunderland!