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Sunderland have 48 points left to play for; Can Chris Coleman manage another Great Escape?

Peter Reid famously had seven games to save us in 1995. 23 years on Chris Coleman has more than double that. Can Sunderland pull off yet another Great Escape?

Sunderland v Ipswich Town - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Lets be honest - if Sunderland’s reality was a game of Football Manager, we'd all have switched it off and started again years ago.

Once rebooted, we'd tell ourselves to just pay the money and sign Marcos Alonso; maybe even Ki. We'd have reassured ourselves that by securing the signature of the South Korean we could avoid the prospect of signing Jack Rodwell at all costs.

We'd tell ourselves not to act like a love-sick teenager and just let Borini go. We'd remind ourselves later on that this was the right course of action and repeat those lessons: just pay the money for M'Vila and don't go chasing him. We'll save ourselves heartache and avoid shelling out a fortune for Didier Ndong.

Sunderland Training And Press Conference
Yann M’Vila - one that got away...
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

We'd also tell ourselves not to call Cattermole just as he arrived at the Britannia or deny Kone the chance to sign for Everton. It's better to take the money than suffer what's to come.

There's probably a lot more that you could add personally, but the point is hindsight is a wonderful thing and, in the world of computer games, the reboot button solves all kinds of mistakes.

Unfortunately we don't have such a luxury in real life. You have to plough on, hoping you learn from those mistakes and you can plot a new course before it's too late.

I heard the mumblings and read the comments online after the defeat to Ipswich. Doom and gloom seemed to be the order of the day and many supporters were working out just how far it is to Plymouth, Oxford and Portsmouth. And just where is Fleetwood? For them, it is too late to plot a new course and it’s time to accept our fate.

Sunderland v Queens Park Rangers - Sky Bet Championship
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

There were others who have already said enough is enough. It’s simply too late for them. Whether we’ll see them again this season, let alone next, is a question only they can answer. We all have a choice and I don’t think anyone can be blamed for deciding to do something else with their Saturday afternoons.

Yet, in the midst of all that - and it does feel a majority view, but taking a straw poll after another team completes the double over us is probably not the best idea - was a small voice that wanted to be heard.

We’re not out of this yet. We have a manager we can rally around. Yes, it’s hard. The players are struggling for quality, consistency and chemistry. True, the stadium on match-days is a shadow of its former self. We accept the atmosphere can be stagnant, apathetic and even boring on occasion, but in Coleman we have someone who cares for this football club and desires, as we all do, to get the place bouncing once more.

When I heard those voices I looked again at the league table and I was surprised that they spoke a truth. We’re not cut adrift. By rights we should be, given the fact we’ve only won 5 times from 30 games. But the fact is Burton Albion are below us for a reason, Hull City are falling faster than us, without a league win since early December and only one win since mid-October, and Barnsley remain only two points above us, with a remarkably similar run of results to Hull. The problem is, of course, their one win since October was the 1-0 victory over us on New Year’s Day.

Sunderland v Hull City - Sky Bet Championship
Asoro’s goal against free-falling Hull was crucial
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

With the situation being as it is, there remains hope that we could actually find ourselves sitting above the dreaded line by the time we finish our Sunday lunch on May 6th.

We have 16 games left. 48 points to play for. Of course, it really depends how Barnsley fare in their run-in, but typically we’d need between 20 and 27 more points to be safe.

To put this into some kind of context, Simon Grayson won once in 15 games, gaining 10 points in total, and without a clean sheet. Chris Coleman, in 13 games, has won four times, securing 14 points and managed 5 clean sheets. Coleman has won 1.07 points per game, compared to Grayson’s 0.66. In the last 16 games, we’d need to see a similar improvement again, as we aimto achieve 1.25 points per game; at least 7 wins, maybe as many as 9 - a tall order, but there are winnable games still to play.

We play four of the sides within 10 points of us: Burton and Sheffield Wednesday at home, Bolton and Reading away. Four others offer a good chance of 3 points: home games against Brentford and Norwich and away trips to London for games against Millwall and QPR. We may still need points elsewhere - it really depends how quickly we can overhaul Barnsley and get out of the bottom three.

Birmingham City v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Coleman now knows what he has at his disposal to get those important points. He has added five players in the window, which was a pleasant surprise as I hadn’t expected anything of real note or quality. Yet the acquisitions of Ovie Ejaria, Ashley Fletcher and Jake Clarke-Salter give youthful energy and raw talent. Lee Camp and Kazenga LuaLua, coupled with the emergence of Ethan Robson, gives us further options to improve the squad. It’s now down to Coleman and Symons to get their ideas across in time for the final run-in.

Can it be done? I’m still thinking there is hope. But, as we often say, it’s the hope we can’t stand.

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