Sunderland needed that. Three points picked up this afternoon at Nottingham Forest is a huge result, for many reasons. Not least the lift it gives everyone associated with the Black Cats following the Boxing Day horror show at Sheffield United. But with a sustained survival push needed in 2018, here’s five reasons why today’s victory has us heading in the right direction.
The Magic 22
A few weeks ago, we highlighted that 22 points was the minimum Sunderland would need to have on the board by January 1st.
That’s because in the last decade, only two teams have managed to avoid relegation to League One having earned less by New Year’s Day. Victory over Forest has Sunderland sat neatly with that magic 22 in the bag - just in the nick of time.
Points-per-game haul on track
When Chris Coleman took over the bottom-placed Black Cats in November, his side had played 16 with just ten points on the table.
To reach the 50-point mark - which generally sees sides safe in the Championship - the Wearsiders needed to collect 40 from the thirty games remaining - an average of 1.4 per match.
Coleman has overseen eight games now; Sunderland have won three, drawn two and lost three - an on-track average point haul of 1.4 game. The Black Cats are on course, but it’s still going to be tough.
Out of the bottom three as 2018 dawns
Fourth-bottom is little to shout about, but being outside of the relegation places as the new year dawns is a decent enough psychological boost.
In the last ten seasons, nearly three-quarters of all Championship sides who were in the bottom three on New Year’s Day went on to be relegated.
The fact that the 8 lowest teams in the division all also picked up results today made this one all the more important to keep things tight in the lower reaches of the league. Victories for Bolton and Birmingham would really have ended 2017 on a sour note had Sunderland not won this afternoon.
The single biggest improvement Coleman has brought about is a new-found defensive solidity. And whilst it’s still a work in progress - as evidenced by conceding three against Sheffield United and Reading - this trend augers well for a safety mission.
The teams relegated from the Championship in the past five seasons did so with an average of 74 goals conceded. That’s nearly two per game.
Coleman’s Sunderland have conceded 9 goals in the eight games since he took charge. Averaging that over the remaining fixtures would see the Black Cats finish with a reasonable 66 goals conceded - an average of 1.4 per game.
The improvement from Grayson to Coleman now looks sustained
Simon Grayson departed Sunderland having earned a dismal 0.66 points per game. Chris Coleman’s eight fixtures in charge have yielded almost 1.4 points per game.
Admittedly, the Grayson version had scored more - 1.1 strikes per match as against the Coleman version 0.9 per match, but the defensive trade-off seems to be well worth it. Grayson’s Sunderland were going down with 2.0 goals per game conceded compared with Coleman’s 1.1.
When a new manager ‘bounce’ will end is tricky to predict, but the results are encouraging and with a little assistance in the January transfer window the Coleman-inspired improvement at Sunderland looks like it will be sustainable.