Now that all the midweek games have been and gone it's becoming increasingly difficult to call just who will be in the bottom three come the end of the season.
As it stands, with fourteen games to play, we're in the bottom three. We're four points behind Norwich in seventeenth and, being honest, it's going to take a monumental effort and change from our players if we're to survive. Simply put we are banking on going on a run of victories combined with one of the teams just outside the relegation places going on a terrible run if we are to survive. It may seem incredibly difficult but more than any set of supporters we know fine well that we've managed to do enough to stay up in the past. It's certainly not beyond us.
The Magical 'Forty Point Mark' - Can We Realistically Achieve It?
Well, our form thus far would suggest not. We're currently averaging around 0.8 points per game, which would see us finish with 30.4 points - 31 to round up. The last time that thirty-one points would have been enough for survival was at the end of the 2009-2010 season, when eighteenth placed Burnley were relegated with thirty points, only ahead of nineteenth placed Hull because of goal difference.
In the last three seasons the lowest points total that would have seen you survive is thirty-four, enough to put you above Norwich at the end of the 2013/2014 'great escape' season.
Although forty points is the mark that all clubs realistically threatened by relegation target at the start of the season, it's been a while since a club has needed to reach that mark in order to survive.
So - if we keep up our average of points per game and end up with around thirty or thirty-one points, it may well be enough but if recent years are anything to go by we're probably going to have to win two or three games against clubs we usually wouldn't win games against in order to push beyond that. It's tough, but certainly not unachievable.
Which Teams Are Considered Threatened
At this stage last season the table looked like this.
This year, it looks like this, and if I were to draw any sort of comparison it would be that the teams outside the relegation places are picking up more points than the teams occupying those slots were last season.
Theoretically, you'd imagine that this means it's going to take a bigger points total than it did last year to stay up, which I'd say is a fair assumption.
The teams you'd have expected to struggle, namely Leicester and Watford, have far exceeded expectations. The same goes to Bournemouth. Swansea and Chelsea have been the sides that have completely under-performed in the league this year, and there's always the chance that their quality will shine through and see them pull away. For Chelsea, we can expect it. That said, we really need Swansea's awful season to continue.
Looking at Bournemouth's points thus far, and their decent form, you'd imagine another ten points will be more than enough for them to be safe and they certainly have the ability to achieve it. Their perspective differs from ours and we could really do with them plummeting if we are to stand any chance of clawing out of the relegation places.
Norwich are teetering on the edge and, despite the relatively safe January acquisition of Steven Naismith and the purchase of Swiss defender Timm Klose, they haven't particularly strengthened their squad. Norwich are the definition of a yo-yo club and that tag is something that hangs over them and will continue to do so until they successfully retain their Premier League place for more than a season.
Beyond Bournemouth, I just don't see anyone else getting dragged into it. Above them are West Brom who, although still realistically able to be relegated, have more than enough quality to survive, particularly with Tony Pulis in charge. I don't see them losing enough games to be brought in to the mix, but we'll see.
The Run In - Who Has The Toughest Task?
It's hard to say which way things are going to go, considering each team theoretically has another forty-two points to play for, but you have to admit that Villa are well out of the reckoning when it comes to survival. Their run towards April is awful and it's almost impossible to see them getting themselves out of this mess, especially when you consider they didn't buy a single player in the January window to give themselves a chance of survival.
Our next seven matches are massive. You have to think that in order to stay in touching distance we need to win at least three of those, and even then it probably won't be enough to climb out of the bottom three by the time we enter April. As I said earlier, it going to take a run of unexpected wins against better sides if we are to stand any chance of saving ourselves going into the last six weeks of the season. The performance against Man City should give us hope, and a win in one of our next two games would give us an outstanding chance and certainly put pressure on the teams just above us.
In Newcastle's next seven games they have away games at Chelsea, Stoke and Leicester, and home games against West Brom, Manchester City, Bournemouth and us. Having watched them play last night I don't think the fact they've spent alot of money in January will make a huge difference to their survival hopes, especially considering their lack of depth in defence. Newcastle have injuries to juggle with alongside the ban that Jamaal Lascelles picked up against Everton. Their three games during the remainder of February could be make or break, because if they fail to win any of them they, like Sunderland, could lose serious ground on the teams above them.
Norwich only have three away games remaining against top ten opposition - Everton, Arsenal and Leicester - and seeing as they are favourites going into Saturday's game against Aston Villa they could well come out of this weekend in a decent position. Of all the teams down the bottom they are the one that Sunderland most need to go on a bad run of results. If they do, and we capitalise, we could be safe. They're only four points ahead of us right now - should they win this weekend and we don't, they'll be seven points ahead. We don't need that.
Swansea have taken seven points from their last three games and now they've got some momentum - with a new manager on board and the uncertainty around potential departures of players now in the past - you'd expect they have more than enough quality in their squad to scrape safe. They have out-of-form Crystal Palace at home this weekend and should they win that they'll be on 29 points and potentially ten ahead of us.
Bournemouth have only lost one of their last five games, and have taken seven points from a possible nine in their last three games, just like Swansea. Four of their next six games are at home and their form recently would suggest they might pick up a number of results which could keep them well ahead of the bottom three. Like Norwich, the hope is that they go on a terrible run and get dragged back in to it whilst we attempt to make up ground.
Outside the pack, twelfth-placed Crystal Palace are in the midst of a terrible run of form, losing their last five, but the fact they had such a solid start to the season should probably be enough to ensure they'll safe. Another two wins will probably keep them well away from the bottom pack. They play Leicester, Manchester United and Liverpool in March and if they don't come out of the rut they find themselves in they may well be brought in to the mix, but I don't see it.
The bottom three are there for a reason. Both ourselves and Newcastle have some really tough games this month and both teams are likely looking at a much wider gap opening up between us and the teams above us.
Well, the Manchester City game should give us hope that the new players are going to be influential enough to carry us forward and pick up wins in games that we have no right winning, but it has to start immediately. Liverpool and Manchester United are two of the biggest clubs in the country but are by no stretch unbeatable and we have to come out with of that run with at least a win we'll still be fairly close to the rest of the teams above us.
It's difficult though. Our problem all season has been with capitulating in games against top eight sides and if we can win a few of the ones we probably aren't supposed to we'll likely stay up. We're probably banking on beating Newcastle again too.
I want to hear your thoughts - how do you rate our chances of staying up? Who do you think will be the bottom three at the end of the season? Leave your comments below this article.