Chris Young column: Sunderland faced with four cup finals

Sunderland manager Gustavo Poyet.
Sunderland manager Gustavo Poyet.
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GUS POYET opened a Pandora’s Box by going public earlier this month with his belief that there were fundamental issues awry at Sunderland.

Poyet has attempted to quieten down that talk over the last week, but it was too late. The flurry of rumours and contradictory reports had already sprang out of the box over what the future has in stake for both the Uruguayan and the club itself.

The former Brighton boss has no intention of walking away.

But he is eager to provoke changes to the annual pattern of relegation turmoil and upset the apple cart by introducing new structures, standards and systems.

Crucially, he wants to be given greater authority from Ellis Short to conduct those widesweeping reforms.

The sticking point is whether that will be forthcoming.

One way or another, there is the potential for the summer to be just as intriguing off-the-field at the Stadium of Light, as it will be with the overhaul of the playing squad.

But for the next fortnight, it doesn’t matter.

Who stays and who goes at the end of the season?

It doesn’t matter.

Who is to blame for the mess Sunderland have found themselves in?

It doesn’t matter.

The recriminations, theories and distaste have to be put on ice after Sunderland have somehow found themselves with a second chance at Premier League survival.

Credit to Poyet and particularly his players for their refusal to raise the white flag when every pundit and punter took it as given that Sunderland were already bound for the Championship.

Those sound-bites from beaten and beleaguered players about “keeping going” and “keeping believing” have been more than just hot air.

Even if Sunderland had been freed from the shackles of expectation and had nothing left to lose, they still produced two results which have turned the relegation dogfight on its head.

There is clearly a determination in the dressing room to avoid having the black mark of relegation on CVs.

Should the Black Cats complete a remarkable piece of escapology, it CANNOT lead to the current deficiencies at the club being swept under the table.

Remaining in the Premier League would have to be taken as an unexpected bonus in the process of root and branch reform needed to get both better value for money in the transfer market and more players through the academy system into the first team.

Southampton have to be role models for Sunderland after the Saints have achieved in double-quick time that hallowed – if slightly dull – objective of a top-10 finish through investing in quality, while crucially fast-tracking homegrown talent.

The 20 points which currently separates Southampton from Sunderland shows the chasm which the Black Cats need to bridge.

But staying up would provide a far stronger financial base for Sunderland to conduct those changes.

For one, the club could avoid signing players for the Championship, who have to be ditched if and when promotion is achieved.

That is why these final four games are pivotal for both players and supporters.

Poyet made a point of directly appealing to the latter as soon as the final whistle went at Chelsea and rightly so.

Ditch the remote control or the temptation to watch Sunday’s visit of Cardiff with a couple of pints of Carling in hand. Sunderland need a brimming and buoyant Stadium of Light this weekend.

This one is akin to a Championship play-off final. There’s that much riding on it.

Yes, Sunderland have proved to be specialists in disappointment on their own turf this season, yet the remaining home games against Cardiff, West Brom and Swansea are almost one-offs.

And if Poyet’s side can register a league victory on Wearside for the first time since January this weekend, it will leave them in pole position to stay up.

The magical points tally needed to remain in the Premier League this season is not 40, it’s 36, with Sunderland crucially boasting a superior goal difference than the other three members of the bottom four.

Cardiff would be unable to put more points on the board than 36 if they succumb on Sunday.

Norwich would need to take five points from meetings with Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal to exceed 36.

And Fulham – intriguingly the side that Sunderland’s squad believe are their main survival rivals – require seven points from their last three games, albeit they have the easiest run-in on paper.

Now, after only winning three times at home all season and just ending a two-and-a-half month wait for a Premier League victory, perhaps it’s being slightly blinkered from reality to suggest Sunderland can emerge on top in at least 50 per cent of their remaining fixtures.

But it’s time to forget all of the trappings of failure from this incredible emotional rollercoaster of a season.

Starting on Sunday, the campaign boils down to just four games.