Sunderland have nine games of the current season left to play, with our future looking increasingly more ominous with each passing, demoralising defeat.
Six games ago we started considering how many points we’d need for safety - and, despite our poor form, I felt quite optimistic at the time;
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.
What was I thinking? I suggested we needed eight, if not ten points from those first five games, ending with the Villa game. Beat Brentford at home, beat Bolton and draw with Boro - it would be a good start. Avoid defeat at Millwall and we’d be on track.
Of course, we lost to Brentford and lost at Bolton. The fact the two draws were secured is no silver lining. Eight points required; two points gained. We’d obviously racked up two of our five ‘allowed’ defeats and since then we’ve added two more, with defeats to Villa and QPR.
Is it possible to turn a corner this weekend and effectively go unbeaten til the end of season? Let’s see what’s in store.
Saturday 17th March - Preston (H)
Preston sit in eighth spot, with two wins, two defeats and a draw in their last five matches. They sit four points off a play-off spot, whilst we have the same gap to safety. This will be a tough game, made perhaps harder with the pressures of playing at home.
A change of goalkeeper is imminent, given Jason Steele’s idiotic red card against QPR, so a lot will depend on who replaces him. Will Lee Camp put in a display after being dropped for the last couple of games or will Max Stryjek be the final throw of the goalkeeping dice? Let’s hope, whoever Chris selects, improves on recent calamities - we really can’t afford to lose!
PREDICTION: Draw. Barnsley lose against Millwall, Burton lose at Wolves & Birmingham lose against Hull, with the gap to safety reduced to FOUR POINTS.
Friday 30th March - Derby (A)
Things don’t get any easier, with a trip to play-off hopefuls Derby County next on the agenda. However, they’re drawing too many games, with four of their last five ending that way. The other was a defeat.
Could that be a ray of hope? If we did get something against Preston, could we use whatever confidence that generates to gain something?
PREDICTION: Draw. Barnsley to draw against Bristol City, Burton lose at Cardiff & Birmingham lose against Ipswich, with the hap to safety staying at FOUR POINTS.
Monday 2nd April - Sheff Wed (H)
Come on... if we can’t beat Sheffield Wednesday I’ll drive you all to Accrington Stanley myself! Our form, surprisingly, is actually better than theirs - the Owls have only gained only two points since the end of January.
This is the game we simply have to win. No question.
PREDICTION: Sunderland win. Barnsley to draw at Forest, Burton lose at Boro & Birmingham draw at Bolton, reducing the gap to safety to TWO POINTS.
Saturday 7th April - Leeds (A)
If we’re in touching distance and momentum is with us a trip to Leeds should not necessarily be a concern. Two draws, two defeats and a solitary win in their last five games shows they are inconsistent.
Of course, if things haven’t gone our way, is this a place to record an away win? It’ll be a huge game, wherever we are at this stage, and we’ll need the spirit of ‘73 to carry us through.
PREDICTION: Draw. Barnsley to draw against Sheffield United, Birmingham to draw against Burton, with the gap to safety remaining at TWO POINTS.
Tuesday 10th April - Norwich (H)
The season started so well with the reverse fixture. Can we end it the same way?
Like Derby, Norwich make a habit of drawing games: four in their last five with the other, again Derby-esque, a defeat. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that we could be doing the same by this stage and grinding out the points.
PREDICTION: Draw. Barnsley lose at Ipswich, Burton draw against Hull & Birmingham lose at Bristol City, reducing the gap to safety to ONE POINT.
Saturday 14th April - Reading (A)
For Reading, read Derby and Norwich! We are certainly playing sides who can’t win but don’t like to lose. Can you guess the prediction here?
PREDICTION: Draw. Barnsley draw against Bolton, Burton lose against Derby & Birmingham lose at Wolves, keeping the gap to safety at ONE POINT.
Saturday 21st April - Burton (H)
If Sheffield Wednesday was must-win, Burton at home is a game where we simply cannot afford to drop any points. If the predictions are right, we will be frustratingly close and need to finally get over that line. This is the game. This one.
PREDICTION: Sunderland win. Barnsley lose at Leeds & Birmingham lose against Sheffield United, putting Sunderland TWO POINTS CLEAR of the relegation zone.
Saturday 28th April - Fulham (A)
If we have finally clawed our way out of the bottom three, can we stay there?
Against Fulham? A side cementing their play-off place? Unlikely - unless others lose.
PREDICTION: Defeat. Barnsley draw against Brentford, Burton draw against Bolton & Birmingham lose at QPR, reducing the gap between Sunderland and the relegation zone to just ONE POINT.
Sunday 6th May - Wolves (H)
This is it - a home game to end with.
Barnsley go to Derby. It’s a straight fight to the death. Birmingham fell a couple of weeks ago; Burton too. Now it’s us or them. Barnsley will, no doubt, have a better goal difference still, so a point for them and a defeat for us means we drop into League One. It’s tight.
PREDICTION: Defeat. Barnsley? Who knows...