The big myth in football is how Premier League relegation cleanses football clubs of all their rot and restores them to immediate glory. Today, there are even Sunderland fans who pre-emptively surrender to that falsehood.
Because, after all, one good season in the Championship makes everything okay again, right? Just ask Blackburn Rovers and Fulham, or Wigan Athletic and Bolton Wanderers. Southampton proved it in 2005, didn’t they? What about Derby County’s success after 2008? Don’t forget Newcastle United’s recent stability either!
You get the idea. We shouldn’t look for silver linings in the uncertainty of the Championship. In fact, we shouldn’t look at the Championship at all; because come next season, Sunderland probably won’t be there anyway. And if you don’t believe that, then just take a moment to consider the likely string of events:
On May 7th, Sunderland needs to stop the one-point what-if mentality of drawing matches and actually defeat against Guus Hiddink’s erratic-form Chelsea. It’s doable; Swansea City recently did, but it won’t happen. Sam Allardyce has instilled a streak of 3 losses from our last 13, but expect another at the Stadium of Light.
Dr. Rafael Benitez continues to resuscitate Newcastle United into a grade-one imitation of our own escape-act antics and all is promising on Tyneside. They’re a point ahead, a game ahead, but as big a disadvantage as that is, they won’t care all that much when they bludgeon Aston Villa into a bloody mess next week.
Norwich City’s flurry of March/April happy days are firmly dead and buried as their 2016 form grows more and more painful to look at. They take on UEFA Champions League-chasing Manchester United at Carrow Road and, fortunately, this is not the Louis van Gaal side from January. That said; a score-draw here is very likely.
So realistically, this time next week, Newcastle United will have 36 points whereas Sunderland and Norwich City will both have 32 points. We’ll all panic, RTG will have hearts in arses and Dame N’Doye will have another s*** evening looking at his Twitter feed hash-tags.
That then sets up what will be the real decisive day in this relegation three-way: May 11th. On this mid-week match-day, Norwich and Sunderland both play their extra fixture with total knowledge of what Newcastle’s total points tally can be.
The Black Cats’ game in hand is perhaps our most winnable: at home to Everton. Some of our players have previous against Everton around this time of the campaign, and our 2013/2015 league survivals came off the back of victories over the Toffees. Also, think on this: Allardyce joined Sunderland on October 9th; we’ve won 29 points since that day. Everton, from that same date, have won 31. We win here!
Meanwhile, Norwich City will host Watford. Both teams, on average, are in even form having both picked up 7 points from their last 6 matches. But, really, it’s a Norwich side that have won fewer home games than the Hornets have won away. The margin isn’t huge though, and the match has a draw written all over it.
Alright, say that’s the way things go. We play our game in hand, but Newcastle United are still one point better off than us, and Norwich City aren’t losing either! We have 35 points but Norwich, on 33, could overtake us if we lose our last fixture. And what about the Toon – they’ll be ahead of us! It’s Newcastle’s lead to lose!
That’s absolutely right, and they probably will do just that. Because on May 15th, second-worst goal-conceders Newcastle United entertain second-best goal-scorers Tottenham Hotspur at St. James’ Park. Do you really think Mauricio Pochettino is going to let the team that sucker-punched him at White Hart Lane walk out of this match with any points? Hell no, he won’t.
Elsewhere, at Goodison Park, Alex Neil has a good chance to earn his Norwich players a win over Everton. It’s not massively likely, but you’ve got to allow for an unexpected win to occur somewhere and why not against the most inconsistent, underachieving team in the division? It’ll be hard-fought, but Norwich will win here.
So what that means is: come 4:45pm on the final day of the season, Newcastle United and Norwich City will both end their campaigns on 36 points and a similar goal difference of minus twenty-something thereabouts.
And what does that mean for Sunderland? Just draw! Just draw against Watford at Vicarage Road! To put it better – Sunderland need only do what was done against Aston Villa, Crystal Palace, Swansea, Liverpool, Southampton, Newcastle, Norwich and Stoke City, and not lose this match!
And just think – Sunderland are on 7 points from our last 6 away games, with the third-best away-day goal-scorer in the league in Jermain Defoe, who has 11 goals on the road this season. Eleven! Against Watford! Just ask yourself: do you think Sunderland could pull off a draw against Watford if they knew it would mean league safety? Of course they could! They did it against Arsenal last season and made Dick Advocaat bawl out of every orifice!
Yes, that would very likely happen, and would mean Sunderland would also finish the season on 36 points. The only difference however is the one that matters most – the goal difference. Right now, the Black Cats have a 7-goal advantage over Newcastle and 8-goal advantage over Norwich. We haven’t conceded more than 2 goals since January and our goal tally betters both clubs so far this season. If even results do not go this exact way, our current -18 GD will have some say when all is done.
So there you have it, as realistic as it will probably get. Newcastle will swat aside a poor team and be humbled by a better one; Norwich won’t lose matches but won’t win the relegation fight either; and all Sunderland need do is lose to a decent Chelsea side, defeat a tumultuous Everton, and just draw away from home – as we always do these days – at Watford.
And that is why Sunderland will not get relegated.