The Black Cats host Preston North End at the Stadium of Light this afternoon knowing a corner must be turned soon or else we will succumb to a dreaded successive relegation.
The fact we are likely making plans for our entry into League One is a saddening thought, but will we ever take one of the numerous opportunities we’ve been afforded recently to pull ourselves from the mire?
Preston arrive with mixed results of late. Two wins, two defeats and a draw from their last five suggest a team that is in the middle of an inconsistent run. Yet with only three defeats under Alex Neil on their travels they will be a tough test for a home side desperate for three points.
Preston have, though, drawn eight times away from home. Whilst a point would not be the preferred outcome, repeating the result from earlier in the season - when we drew 2-2 at Deepdale - would ensure we don’t lose, which could be disastrous depending on other results.
Alex Neil will no doubt be rallying his troops for a final push. They sit four points off a play-off place and will see today’s game as the perfect opportunity to reign in the sides above them.
The danger-man within North End’s ranks will be Sean Maguire, who has already scored four times in March. Chris Coleman will have to be wary, for Preston’s attacking front three capable of causing any defence problems. Given our own inadequacies in this department, it could well be a long afternoon.
The fact Preston have only kept one clean sheet this calendar year perhaps gives us our best hope. The Lilywhites play a 4-3-3 formation and Coleman has the option of matching today’s opponents. If he chooses to do so, it may help our offensive play as we can get more players to support the attack. Scoring first could prove vital.
With Barnsley hosting Millwall and Burton at Wolves, today presents an opportunity to claw some ground back. Birmingham host a resurgent Hull City, so if results go our way we could climb to third bottom and two points from safety.
Speaking with the press yesterday morning, the Sunderland manager said;
We’ve already said we’re running out of games, we know that. It can’t be after this weekend, we’ll wait until the next game comes around, it’s got to be this one.
We’ve just got to not give up, keep going and keep believing because one result can change everything. So, it’s still very much four teams in it and one result can change the landscape dramatically and put pressure on one or two of the teams above us, with one result.
It would be nice to see that five-point gap, if we could turn it into a two-point gap, it changes a lot. Let’s hope that’s the case this weekend.
To do that, Chris Coleman may have to roll his dice again and play a more expansive, attacking style of football. As our Preston guest this week on the Roker Rapport Podcast said, Alex Neil likes to play attacking football and if we try and sit off our opponents too much they’ll undoubtedly make us pay for being so contained.
Coleman has said talk is cheap. Today the rallying cries have to end in the media and start on the pitch. Players have to stand up and be counted, lead by example and take the game by the scruff of its neck.
The fans have to be given something to get behind. Hope has to be restored.
Now is not the time to be timid.
As Coleman said, let’s just see where we end up at 5 o’clock.