The games are fast running out for sides at the wrong end of the Championship, and we’re at that stage in the campaign where struggling clubs start to count on the results of those around them and a bit of luck in order to keep up the hope of survival.
Sunderland aren’t quite at that point yet, but with our own performances failing to produce the results that we need it won’t be long until we will be looking out for the fortunes of these sides around us.
Ideally we needed Norwich to do us a favour at Barnsley during the week, yet the 1-1 draw at Oakwell has left us five points adrift of safety - and with a much worse goal difference, its essentially a six point gap.
Despite there still being 27 points to play for, our fortune may well be out of our hands very soon. We have winnable matches coming up, yet we are going into the final stretch of the season whilst also in the midst of a dire run of form.
Bolton were the first side down at the bottom to turn their season around. The Trotters looked as though they were dead and buried at the half way point of the campaign, but thanks to home victories against Barnsley, Hull, high-flying Cardiff and Bristol City they are well on their way to securing their Championship status for another campaign - this all on the back of losing their best player, Gary Madine, in the January transfer window.
Another who appear to be dragging themselves clear of danger is Barnsley. Before their 1-0 victory at the Stadium of Light on New Year’s Day, Barnsley had failed to win in ten matches. Although results haven’t always gone their way, they are a tough side and now have a three point gap above the relegation zone. It might not be much, but I’d take their position over ours any day of the week.
For much of this campaign the teams in the bottom six have rarely been separated by more than a few points. This has kept a flicker of hope burning on Wearside; we’ve always been in with a chance seemingly no matter how long we’ve gone without a win.
At the turn of the year the Barnsley defeat was the first real signal for me that we would be in a relegation fight; up until then I was quite optimistic that we would turn things around, especially with the wins in December. The turnaround just never materialised - the home defeats to Ipswich, Brentford and most recently Aston Villa have shown that we are incapable of matching most of the sides in this division.
The teams in the bottom three are there for a reason, it’s no fluke or bad luck.
The form table makes grim reading for Sunderland. Just two points in the last six has made sure we remain deep in trouble. Only Birmingham have picked up less points in the past six games than Sunderland - the Blues are in worse form yet still have more points on the board.
At present it looks as though the bottom three will remain the same until the end of the season.
Some teams have the bottle to get themselves out of danger; unfortunately we are not one of them. We’d need to summon that Great Escape spirit of several years ago if we are to be a Championship side again next season. Sides who were below us several weeks ago have donned their tin hats and dug in, and as a result they look far more likely to survive than we do.
I will end this on a positive note though. If you want to be extremely optimistic, you can say that we still have several matches we can win. These include home games against Burton and the deteriorating Sheffield Wednesday as well as a trip to Reading. Three wins from these games would give us at least a fighting chance of saving our season, but it would take a brave man to predict three more Sunderland victories when there has only been five all campaign.
Its bleak, and the embers of optimism will surely be stamped out for good if we get turned over by Preston on Saturday.