So - we’re out of the bottom three, and suddenly things look alot better. Let’s hope we are there in three weeks time - but let’s not get carried away; we are not safe yet, not by a long stretch.
Newcastle, like Sunderland, have momentum at the moment and Norwich aren’t out of it so that will at least make things very interesting for the last few games. It's good viewing for the neutrals, but not so good for us.
I looked at Newcastle, Norwich & Sunderland’s fixtures last week and attempted to suggest where points will come from for each team. I worked that out on the basis that Arsenal would beat us, although it didn’t shock me that we got something from it.
The Arsenal game was Sunderland’s game in hand on Norwich but games in hand mean bot-all if you fail to pick up any points from them. Thankfully we made it count and while it wouldn’t have been the end of the world had we lost the game, it was nice to take advantage of the extra opportunity to get points and move out of the bottom three.
Arsenal playing on Thursday was a factor in us not losing the game in my opinion, although another factor was us defending brilliantly as well. I felt before the game that if we kept it at 0-0 for as long as possible, then playing 180 minutes of football in the space of three days would take its’ toll on Arsene Wenger’s side.
I’m not going to take anything away from Sunderland. We had our tactics spot on and were outstanding for the whole game, easily matching Arsenal’s intensity and could even have won it in the second-half with a bit more composure in the final third. Every time we were under threat there was always somebody there to deal with the danger that Arsenal would undoubtedly pose.
Whatever shortcomings they have had in recent years, as Gav rightly pointed out before the game, they are still no mugs either. They still have one of the best squads in the Premier League and keeping them at bay is a huge achievement by Sam Allardyce’s side.
I would have took a draw before the game, hands down. But if I was offered a score draw or a goalless draw, I’d pick 0-0 because it keeps confidence going at the back. Younes Kaboul and Lamine Kone have looked excellent together in central defence and hopefully that partnership will help us earn enough points to stay up.
I sound just as much a broken record as Allardyce when it comes to keeping clean sheets because if you keep the back door shut completely you only need one goal to win a game.
Three clean sheets in four games after failing to register one for sixteen matches is very encouraging. I wasn’t impressed by keeping a clean sheet against West Brom because they showed no attacking ambition whatsoever but shutouts against Norwich and Arsenal, who did offer more offensively, gives me hope.
I struggle to see Sunderland keeping four clean sheets between now and the end of the season but I’d love to be proved wrong.
What seems certain is that we seem to have a team now and if they continue do the right things, we have a very good chance of finishing above Norwich and Newcastle. But there are still points for all three teams to play for.
The team spirit and willingness to work with and for each other is something that is invaluable in football and it’s especially important at this ‘crunch time’ stage of the season. Call it a cliché but I think every football fan can appreciate the relevance of that now.
Unfortunately, Newcastle are starting to show a bit of that now which does worry me a bit especially as they’ve got two very winnable fixtures next up with Crystal Palace and Aston Villa. Come on, who HASN’T beat Villa this season, and with the momentum and a decent home record since the turn of the year, you’d fancy their chances to beat Palace.
What might help is that Palace aren’t mathematically safe yet and if they at least avoid defeat it will take them to the 40 point mark which more often than not is enough to stay up. So come on Pardew, we’ve always liked you at Sunderland; do us a favour and win on Saturday please?
However, survival is not in either Newcastle’s hands or in Norwich’s hands. Survival is firmly in Sunderland’s hands and we MUST take that opportunity to hopefully get ourselves to safety.