Sunderland AFC announced yesterday that tickets are on sale for the next three home games against Brentford, Boro and Villa. Those fixtures will take us three weeks hence, and during that time we also visit Bolton and Millwall.
As each game approaches we will, of course, do our usual Roker Report previews and predictions, but standing here today, after a battling draw at Bristol City, what do we need from these five games, crammed in to next three weeks?
The obvious thing to say is we need a fair number of points.
A quick glance at the league table sees us on 26. For a moment, ignore what everyone else is doing - we might need the same again from the last 15 games. That’s a rate of 1.7 points per game, or 8 wins and 2 draws. At most, we can only afford to lose 5 games between now and the end of the season.
This means the next three weeks present a critical point in our all too underwhelming season. Forget team-talks, tactics or formations for a second; the players simply have to show the same attitude, courage and ability we saw during the last ten minutes at Ashton Gate… and probably have the same degree of luck.
Given Hull’s win at Forest, the gap is now three points to safety, so we need something to turn for us now - not soon, but right now.
Brentford visit us this Saturday on the back of a three-game run without a win. By and large, the Bees have ground out results on a consistent basis and regularly beaten teams below them, having taken maximum points from Reading, Bolton, and Wednesday since the end of December. Despite this, we need to harness momentum from the Bristol City game and approach this one in the right manner, with the intention of gaining three points.
We then travel to Bolton for another six-pointer. Bolton sit four points above us, having lost only once in the league since Boxing Day. It’s a big ask, but another game we need to be right from the start and has to be a game we target three points.
Boro arrive at the Stadium of Light next and present a huge challenge for us, given previous results, stretching back to last season when we played each other in the Premier League. Boro have had a similar run, results-wise, to Brentford, which means their form suggests a point is a possibility. If confidence has continued to rise in the previous two games, this is another opportunity, at home, we can’t let slip.
We go to Millwall – and Tim Cahill – before we end this home treble against Villa. Given that Villa have hit form, winning their last seven league games, this final home match in the series may be written off as one of our five ‘allowed’ defeats. It is imperative, then, that our trip to East London ends in a positive return.
Is it possible to target ten points from these five games? Can we achieve at least eight, to give us the return we need from this round of matches?
It is, if we can make home advantage work.
It is, if the attitude and commitment is right.
It is, if we attack the opposition from the start and exert a degree of pressure.
It is, if we can score first and give ourselves something to hold on to, rather than constantly having to get ourselves back in the game.
We must say a quick thing about formation, because to get those points we need the right personnel.
McGeady has to start. He’s been a consistent goal threat this season and the more he’s in the team, the more likely we are to create and score goals.
There’s also an argument that playing four-at-the-back allows us to deploy Jonny Williams within our loan allocation. His creativity may also be required.
However Coleman gets these players onto the field of play and what stage of the game they are asked to impact, the need to be adventurous - to score the goals needed to gain the required points - has now reached the critical stage. We need to deploy our arsenal, for what it is, because if we don’t we will simply limp into League One.