Can Sunderland catch their rivals? The comprehensive state of play analysis.. by those that cover the bottom seven every week

Can Moyes lead another great escape?
Can Moyes lead another great escape?
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Sunderland’s international cohort will be returning to Wearside in the next few days ahead of a crucial month of Premier League action.

The Black Cats need an upturn in their own fortunes to stand any chance of survival but now seven points adrift of safety, they also need to hope for a stall in momentum from their closest rivals.

So how much chance of that happening is there?

Here is the comprehensive state of play at the bottom seven teams, from those who watch them every week.

14th: Watford - 31 points

Ron Walker, Watford Observer

How would you assess Watford's chances of survival?

Work done earlier in the season should be enough to keep Watford up. Realistically, with 11 games to go and 31 points on the board, a few more is going to be enough for survival.

Seven points is a big gap for those teams at the bottom. The chances of Watford finishing even 17th, which would be a major disappointment, is looking more and more likely though.

Do Watford have momentum heading into the final straight?

Absolutely not. Three defeats from four following a brief respite has knocked the stuffing out of Watford and they looked devoid of ideas at Crystal Palace on Saturday.

Since the start of December, the club has been on the slide, and has picked up 10 points from its last 13 games.

What does the run-in look like for Watford?

Bad, in a word. Chelsea and Spurs away, coupled with Manchester City and Liverpool at home, make difficult reading.

Watford do still need to pick up a few points to get some momentum back and make sure they are safe, and also importantly to restore the positive atmosphere around the club ahead of next season.

There are two real six-pointers against Sunderland and Swansea in the space of a fortnight in April which Watford will identify as must-win. Trips to Everton and Leicester will also be extremely tough.

Who'll be Watford's key men?

Troy Deeney has five in his last seven – six if you count his own-goal on Saturday – and his return to form will be vital with goals rarely flowing from elsewhere at the moment.

Centre-back Sebastian Prodl looked a shoe-in for player of the season earlier in the year but his form has dropped a little in the past couple of months – although it’s still acceptable - and the club could do with him getting back to the ball-winning commanding centre-half he has shown himself to be.

Will Watford stay up? Name your 3 to go down...

Yes, just about.

It’s difficult to look beyond Sunderland and Middlesbrough, and I think Hull’s run-in is slightly easier than Swansea’s, so I fancy them to surprise a few people and get out of trouble.

15th: Leicester City - 30 points

Rob Tanner, Leicester Mercury

How would you assess Leicester's chances of survival?

Extremely good. The change of manager has had a huge impact and Leicester have won four consecutive games, three in the Premier League, to ease their relegation worries.

Craig Shakespeare has reverted to the same system and personal from last season’s title success and the players appear to be playing with more confidence and energy.

Their turnaround has certainly fanned the flames of the accusations the players downed tools for Ranieri, it may be they just feel more confident and settled in a system that served them so well last season.

Do Leicester have momentum heading into the final straight?

City have plenty of momentum now. They are getting up a head of steam and the likes of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez are scoring goals and providing assists again.

Confidence is growing, especially following their Champions League win over Seville.

What does the run-in look like for Leicester?

City now have two home games after the international break which will be huge. Wins over Stoke City and relegation rivals Sunderland would give them huge breathing space.

However, they have a very congested fixture list in April with the Champions League tie against Atletico Madrid. They face six games in 18 days and have eight games in total in April, with the postponed visit of Tottenham Hotspur still to be arranged.

Besides visits to Arsenal and Manchester City, their run-in isn’t too bad.

Who'll be Leicester's key men?

Kasper Schmiechel has been in great form and the keeper will play a huge role, but it is in attack that City really need to be firing.

Vardy and Mahrez are of huge importance and when they are on form City tend to score goals, which is crucial when you are fighting for survival.

Will Leicester stay up? Name your 3 to go down...

Yes, City should stay up comfortably now. The decision to replace Ranieri was very controversial and the owners and players faced a huge backlash, but so far it looks to have been the right decision.

The three currently in the relegation places have a lot to do. Sunderland and Middlesbrough look in real trouble, while Hull are showing some signs of fight, but it will be difficult for all three to avoid the drop. However, as City experienced at this stage two seasons ago, it is not impossible.

16th: Crystal Palace - 28 points

Rob Warlow, Croydon Advertiser

How would you assess Palace's chances of survival?

Much better than they were a few weeks ago! When Palace were beaten 4-0 at home by Sunderland at the beginning of February, they really did hit rock bottom and were beginning to look doomed.

But since then, the Eagles have improved considerably and after three wins in a row, they have a four point cushion to the bottom three. They also only have a goal difference of -10, which is considerably better than some of the teams around them, and that could be invaluable come the end of the season.

Do Palace have momentum heading into the final straight?

Crystal Palace are an in-form team after three wins in a row, and with three clean sheets too, they have turned the corner in recent weeks under Sam Allardyce.

They have shown that they can grind out results, with the 1-0 wins at home against Middlesbrough and Watford proof of that, and they have given themselves a platform for survival. But they are not out of the woods just yet.

What does the run-in look like for Palace?

This remains the concern for Palace fans, despite the recent upturn in form. Palace still have to play each of the current top six, and having not picked up a single point against any of them in the corresponding fixtures earlier on in the season, it looks a daunting prospect.

Their four other games are where, realistically, they must pick up the points to ensure survival, although none of them will be easy. A trip to an inconsistent Southampton side could be tricky, and home games against Leicester City, Burnley and Hull City could well be critical.

Who'll be Palace's key men?

Crystal Palace have found a winning formula and keeping players like defender Mamadou Sakho and defensive midfielder Luka Milivojevic fit and in the side will be important.

They have made a significant impact and helped Palace tighten up defensively, while at the other end, Palace need Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend to stay in form, and get Christian Benteke scoring again.

Will Palace stay up? Name your 3 to go down...

On the basis of the last three games, I think Crystal Palace will be alright. They have turned a corner and seem to be playing the way Sam Allardyce wants them to, which is getting results.

As for who goes down, I can’t see past the current bottom three, who I think will struggle to overhaul those above them. It looks like being one relegation battle too many for Sunderland, and Middlesbrough are not scoring enough goals to survive, while Hull may just fall short despite showing signs of improvement.

17th: Swansea City - 27 points

Andrew Gwilym, South Wales Evening Post

How would you assess Swansea's chances of survival?

Swansea's chances are significantly better than they were when they were bottom of the table and four points from safety with 19 games to go.

Paul Clement has made a big impact to give them hope, but back-to-back defeats to Hull and Bournemouth have been a setback at the worst possible time.

Their fate is still in their own hands, and there is encouragement to be taken from their vastly-improved home form, but their next game against Middlesbrough may well be pivotal for both sides.

Do Swansea have momentum heading into the final straight?

They certainly did prior to those defeats at Hull and Bournemouth. Swansea won five of their first eight games under Clement, and were within an ace of snatching a point at Manchester City.

That momentum has been punctured somewhat and their current injury problems will do little to improve things.

But Swansea know they can perform much better than they have in their last two games, return to the levels previously shown under Clement and you would fancy them to stay up.

What does the run-in look like for Swansea?

Not too bad. Of the top seven they have Tottenham and Everton at home, plus a trip to Manchester United to come.

Home games against Boro, Stoke and West Brom will provide hope that Swansea can get the points required, while their away games include a trip to Sunderland. It's not easy by any stretch, but others have tougher final furlongs ahead.

Who'll be Swansea's key men?

It's probably obvious to most people that Gylfi Sigurdsson will be vital for Swansea. His superb deadball delivery and his own goalscoring prowess mean the Welsh club will be looking to him to help them finish the job of securing survival.

But it certainly would not hurt if a defence that has shipped the most goals in the Premier League this season could find a way to shore itself up over the closing stages.

Will Swansea stay up? Name your 3 to go down...

I think Swansea will stay up, their last two results have made it harder for them, but they remain in control of their own destiny.

Under Paul Clement they have shown they are a better side than their league position has suggested, but they must make sure the last two weekends are nothing more than a blip. Repeats of those performances will not get it done.

My three to go down? Crystal Palace, Middlesbrough and Sunderland.

18th: Hull City - 24 points

James Smailes, Hull Daily Mail

How would you assess Hull's chances of survival?

The fact Hull City are still in with a genuine fighting chance to stay up with nine games remaining speaks volumes for the job Marco Silva has done since arriving at the club in January.

Hope may not have been lost following a nine-game winless run that preceded Mike Phelan’s departure, but it was certainly on the cusp of being shattered into pieces after a surprisingly promising start to the season quickly eroded away.

Hope, rather than confidence, may be all that remains, but with an unbeaten record at home since the Portuguese arrived at the KCOM Stadium, the Tigers have a fighting chance.

Do Hull have momentum heading into the final straight?

A 4-0 defeat at Everton before heading into the international break would suggest not. However, upon their return to action City face two home games which hold the key to survival.

With three wins and a draw at home under Marco Silva in the Premier League, momentum at the KCOM Stadium is certainly behind the Tigers and the fact they have back-to-back games at home provides that opportunity to not just claw their way out the bottom three but build some momentum at the start of a busy April which yields six games which may not make the season, but can certainly break it.

What does the run-in look like for Hull?

The fact City have more games than away games remaining is a major factor. You may be able to sense a theme here with the Tigers, it’s all about the points they can pick up at the KCOM Stadium.

Not since the embryonic days of the season have City tasted victory on the road in the league. You have to go back to August 20 and Swansea City away for the one and only time the club have won on the road. With difficult trips to Manchester City, Stoke City, Southampton and then fellow relegation rivals Crystal Palace, in the penultimate game of the campaign, points away from home look difficult to come by.

West Ham United and Middlesbrough are up next at home, two games which look winnable, but must also yield six points if safety is surely to be attained. Watford and Sunderland also visit the KCOM in a favourable run-in at home, before Tottenham Hotspur arrive on the final day.

Who'll be Hull's key men?

Tom Huddlestone’s red card at Everton may prove very costly for the club. The former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder has recaptured his best form this season and in recent weeks, has been the standout performer.

Having sold Jake Livermore and Robert Snodgrass in January, City needed Huddlestone’s controlling presence at the heart of the team and he’s stepped up. The concern for the club now is how to replace such an influential and in-form player.

Sam Clucas, a player who is quickly growing into a future international, looks the man most likely to step into that void, while in defence the partnership of Harry Maguire alongside January signing Andrea Ranocchia are a handful for any strikers, as the likes of Romelu Lukakau and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have both discovered in recent weeks.

Will Hull stay up? Name your 3 to go down...

On the back of the club’s home form, they’ve a chance, but I’m expecting a gallant effort which come up just short.

It really does come down to the next two home games with West Ham and Middlesbrough. Win those games and that chance will increase from slim, to reasonable, but anything less than six points and I don’t hold out much hope at all.

I think it’s a shoot-out between City and Swansea for the last remaining relegation place with Middlesbrough and Sunderland doomed for me. The trouble is Swansea have a three-point lead and significant points difference, with winnable home games themselves.

19th: Middlesbrough - 22 points

Jonathon Taylor, The Gazette

How would you assess Boro's chances of survival?

Under Aitor Karanka, Boro were sleep-walking towards relegation playing a style of football that kept them in games, but lacked attacking imagination.

It was no surprise that the Spaniard parted company with the club last week, and now it looks like Karanka's No 2, Steve Agnew, has been handed the reins for the last 10 games.

There was a slight improvement in Sunday's game against Man Utd, and the team showed a bit of attacking zest that they've lacked for so long this season.

But Boro's situation is now critical - five points from safety, and given their final few matches, they need to get a lot of points in the next few weeks to give themselves a fighting chance.

Do Boro have momentum heading into the final straight?

I wouldn't say so, given their 11-game winless league run, but a change in manager so often provides a bounce.

Boro will be hoping that is the case on Teesside, and with their next three matches away at Swansea and Hull and at home to Burnley, there is still optimism that it's not quite mission impossible heading into the final stretch.

In truth, they probably need seven points from their next three matches to give themselves a decent chance of survival - but the noises around the club are positive. The players clearly feel Agnew is the man who can guide them to safety.

And if he does implement a more attacking style, there's no reason why they can't pick up the results. I've said all season they have the players - a goalscorer in Alvaro Negredo, a top quality goalkeeper in Victor Valdes - but it's just the creative spark they've been lacking.

What does the run-in look like for Boro?

The next six, on paper, look decent - with away matches at Swansea, Hull and Bournemouth, and home games against Burnley and Sunderland.

A home game with Arsenal makes up their next half-dozen, but at the moment, every side will look at Boro as a team they 'should be beating'.

Draws won't be enough in the coming weeks - Boro will probably have to double their 'win' tally between now and the end of the season. They've managed just four league victories all season, yet probably now need to win 4 of their last 10.

But it's all about momentum. If Boro can reverse their form and get a couple of big wins in the coming weeks, then the confidence will flow back.

The last four games are tough - home games against Man City and Southampton and away trips to Chelsea and Liverpool - but funny things can happen late in the season. For Boro, it's the next six that will define their season.

Who'll be Boro's key men?

Goals are top of the agenda - so with that in mind, Alvaro Negredo will be the man tasked with firing the club to safety.

But in recent weeks, £6m man Rudy Gestede has also got on the scoresheet a couple of times - and there's mounting calls to play the two of them up front together. So don't rule out the former Aston Villa man playing a big part between now and May.

Other than Victor Valdes in goal, who'll have to be at his best to keep Boro in games, the likes of Gaston Ramirez and Stewart Downing will also be pivotal to give the forwards the ammunition they need.

Will Boro stay up? Name your 3 to go down...

It looks a tall order, but Boro's decision to change their manager could be a game-changer. On the online predictor, I consistently have Boro finishing on 34 points - and sometimes that's been enough to stay up, on other occasions it hasn't.

Boro do have the games in front of them to survive. But for a team who have almost forgotten how to win, asking them to come out on top in nearly half of their remaining games is a huge challenge.

If Boro can win at Swansea, I'd say yes - they can stay up. If they don't, I fear that may be curtains.

But if I had to pick my three right now, it would probably be Sunderland, Hull and Boro - although I do think Watford are a team in freefall with 10 to play.

20th: Sunderland - 20 points

Phil Smith, Sunderland Echo

How would you assess Sunderland's chances of survival?

At the moment you would have to say very slim. They have failed to score in seven of their last eight games across all competitions, even if the exception to that was the sensational 4-0 drubbing of Crystal Palace.

Most of the other teams near the bottom were able to make considerable improvements in recent months either through the January window or the dug-out, in many cases both. For a myriad of reasons Sunderland haven't been able to do that and it is difficult to see the 'spark' they've found in previous seasons coming round again.

Do Sunderland have momentum heading into the final straight?

They look lethargic and certainly lacking momentum. Jan Kirchhoff's return was giving a bit of hope but a recurrence of his knee injury, the classy German out for another month minimum, has rather summed up a season in which everything that could have gone wrong for Sunderland has done.

Their last big hope to find some momentum is the return of Victor Anichebe and Lee Cattermole, who are crucial players to the team. Both will be struggling for match fitness but their presence might be the boost much needed.

What does the run-in look like for Sunderland?

One of the reasons you can't entirely rule out another great escape is that the fixture list does, on paper at least, offer plenty of chances for Sunderland to land wins.

They still have to play Middlesbrough, Leicester City and Hull City away, as well as Swansea City and Bournemouth at home. Their final two games are away to Arsenal and Chelsea, however, so they will need to get out of the bottom three before the last week of the campaign.

Who'll be Sunderland's key men?

Jermain Defoe, quite clearly. A really crucial figure is also likely to be Adnan Januzaj. He has not been a consistent player for Sunderland this season, but what he possesses that the rest of the squad lacks is a real dribbling ability and the ability to change the pace of an attack.

The Black Cats rarely succeed on the counter when he has an off day and clearly that hurts them. He is more likely than anyone to set up Defoe for the goals that will keep Sunderland up.

Will Sunderland stay up? Name your 3 to go down...

At this stage the common consensus is no, but the caveat is that almost everyone has said the same at this stage for the last four seasons.

Injuries mean this is their tallest order yet but they have shown in previous campaigns that they can win high pressure games against fellow strugglers on the home stretch. As mentioned before, they have five of those still to go.

ll in all, though, I would go for Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Swansea City. I just think Hull are onto something in Marco Silva.