Avoiding defeat at Carrow Road is rightly step one for Sam Allardyce this weekend.
A sixth successive league loss at a setting which has not been a happy hunting ground for the Black Cats would means curtains for their bid to remain in the Premier League. Mathematically Sunderland would have a prayer, but realistically they wouldn’t.
A seven-point gap with only five remaining games (one of which is admittedly in hand) would leave Sunderland requiring a miracle on an even grander scale than survival from two years ago.
But is a draw enough? Despite Allardyce publicly trying to ease the pressure on his players by declaring tomorrow’s game is a ‘must-not-lose’ encounter, the honest answer is no, one point won’t suffice.
Sunderland would have made no inroads into Norwich’s four-point buffer and their game in hand is now effectively next weekend’s visit of Arsenal, with the Canaries not in action due to the FA Cup clash.
For all a draw would leave Sunderland with slim hopes of survival, they would still have to win two or three games, and home encounters against Arsenal and Chelsea, sandwiched by a trip to Stoke, are hardly ideal fixtures when living under that growing tide of pressure.
Norwich are the team who will feel that a draw is a far better result, just as Sunderland did prior to the similarly pivotal relegation clash at St James’s Park last month.
However, Alex Neil’s men are unlikely to sit back in the same manner as Tony Pulis’ West Brom a fortnight ago.
Let’s face it, after only the bottom two have conceded more this season, Norwich (or Sunderland for that matter) don’t have the defensive capabilities to shut up shop.
Backed by a boisterous home crowd, Norwich will push on in search of the goals which would secure their place in the top flight, particularly in the first half.
The opening half-hour is absolutely crucial for Sunderland in soaking up that pressure. There can be no repeat of the woeful performance from two years ago when Gus Poyet’s side were absolutely ragged from the off and found themselves 2-0 down after 32 minutes.
Sunderland are more than capable of causing Norwich problems before the interval – as they did successfully in the derby – but they will feel that their chances improve if anxiety begins to set in among home fans as the match wears on.
Despite a succession of awful spurned chances over the last two games, Sunderland do have the firepower in their midst to nick a winner.
However, Allardyce’s men have to hold their nerve on an afternoon which could be worth millions and decide the whole destiny of the club’s future.
Regardless of everything being said and written about the game in the build-up to kick-off, those in red and white will be in no doubt over how much they need a first league win in Norfolk since 1985.