A hard-earned draw at Wolves will count for little if Sunderland can’t gain some momentum going into the festive period by collecting points from the next two fixtures which are on our own patch.
Chris Coleman’s side have a home game with mid-table Fulham next weekend then a match against relegation rivals Birmingham at the Stadium of Light seven days later.
The festive programme continues with a tricky looking trip to Sheffield United on Boxing Day before Nottingham Forest away and Barnsley on our own turf during the New Year break and if Sunderland can’t pick up a minimum of seven points in those games, history suggests it will be curtains on our hopes of staying up.
No one needs reminding of the Black Cats dire record at the Stadium of Light but previous Championship trends prove that the holiday period is almost certain to go a long way in determining which league Sunderland find themselves in next season.
That’s because in the last ten years of the Championship, 73% of all sides who found themselves in the bottom three following the completion of the Christmas and New Year programme went on to be relegated to League One at the end of the campaign.
The average haul that the teams who later succumbed to the drop had achieved by the 2nd of January in the last ten seasons was 21 points. And if Sunderland can’t reach that, things will look desperate.
That’s because in the last decade only two sides have managed to stay up by achieving less than 22 points by the time the festive programme was completed - Bristol City two years ago and Barnsley in 2012/13.
Sunderland have five league games between now and the completion of the festive fixtures. After Saturday’s result, we find ourselves second bottom of the table with 15 on the board. A couple of wins and a draw minimum required then just to reach the magic 22 by the time we all trudge back to work with a few extra pounds on our waistline making new year’s resolutions.
As an aside, Wolves in 2012/13 and Portsmouth the year before were the two clubs to capitulate in the most significant fashion from January onwards. Both were looking reasonably comfortable with 31 points as the new year began but went on to be relegated.
With thoughts turning to what Chris Coleman might be able to do in January, perhaps the fact that 22 of the 30 sides who have been in the drop zone as the new year dawned and went on to be relegated suggests that business in the mid-season transfer window has tended not to have much effect on whether a side dropped from the Championship at the end of the season.
It’s also worth noting that whilst right now the gap between Sunderland and the safety zone is just a single point, there’s a stretch continuing to widen from 20th place upwards which the Black Cats need to start keeping pace with.
It’s early days for Chris Coleman of course. But the new Sunderland boss has collected 4 points from his opening four games. If the Welshman is to steer his side to the Championship’s hallowed 50 points - the figure which ordinarily will secure safety - his present rate of collection (a point a game) would usually see the Black Cats end up relegated at the end of the campaign.
So 1.4 points-per-match is the current target needed to get to 50 from the remaining twenty-five games of the season, and that works out at two wins and a draw from every five fixtures.
And if you’re in any doubt of the magic number, picking up 1.4 points in our next five games would also have us with 22 on the board by the 2nd of January. That’s your target then, Chris.