Sometime in the not too distant future, you’re going to be hearing the phrases “The business end” and “Squeeky bum time” when someone referring to the run-in towards the season’s finish.
It’s the excitable time when nerves are frayed at both ends of the spectrum but it’s really now that the anxiety begins to kick in.
Jordan Pickford could blossom with another season of Championship experienceDavid Preece
Not only is this transfer window time, it’s also the period when reality of what this season will hold begins to dawn on everyone.
Up to the new year, you can always convince yourself there’s plenty of time to turn things around, to push for that play-off place or to install some believe you can make Europe or better still, become champions of your league.
It’s only after that final day of the season we will know for sure how important the result against Villa will prove to be but for the sake of hope, it means everything.
Imagine being Remi Garde at this moment in time and think yourself lucky you’re not in the position Villa fans are right now.
Seven points up to Swansea with 18 games to go wouldn’t have been unsurmountable but only a win and a draw away from safety doesn’t seem bad at all.
The Villa win meant so much more than just three points.
It was about reviving the hope, palming off Villa and keeping them at arm’s length and pulling rivals closer and putting the fear into Newcastle, Swansea, Bournemouth and Norwich.
I can’t see anyone else being dragged into that group and if I’m perfectly honest, despite the financial implications of staying in the Premier League this season,
I’m actually not too concerned for the club if we were to go down.
I know that won’t be an opinion that will go down well with most people but, sat here 150 miles away and looking at the bigger picture, I can see that life in the Premier League won’t lead to the restructuring of the squad that’s needed to guarantee a brighter future for the club.
The work needed to halt the runaway train that Big Sam jumped aboard in October just seems to be too big an ask.
I never thought I’d hear myself say it but I’m coming around to thinking that relegation wouldn’t be so bad if it gave Sam the chance to raze the structure of the first team squad and rebuild it from the ground up.
You only have to look at West Ham to see what a brilliant job Sam did there and who would argue if the club was in the same position as West Ham at the moment?
You’d settle for sixth place in the Premier League, regularly beating other top six sides whilst playing attractive football, wouldn’t you?
I was at Barnsley the season Sam took them up via the play-offs and they did exactly what was needed in a league which can chew you up and spit you out further down the pyramid if you don’t have the right man at the helm.
Fortunately though, Sunderland do.
It was actually one of our players who he signed during the window, Ricardo Vaz Te, a player who only arrived at Barnsley six months earlier because his trial with Sheffield United had been cancelled at the last minute, who scored the winning goal.
It could be said that it was that signing that invigorated West Ham in their push towards promotion, more evidence of Sam’s shrewdness in identifying what is needed in the transfer window.
I know the last thing on Sam’s mind would be relegation.
It would be a blemish on an otherwise relegation free CV as a manager but I don’t think it should be seen as that, should it happen.
I’ve said in the past that clubs like Southampton, Swansea, and more recently, Bournemouth have benefitted from total rebuilding and I truly think Sunderland can do exactly the same.
Others will cite Leeds, Portsmouth, Bolton and perhaps even Coventry of clubs who failed to recover from relegation from the Premier League but we are different.
Those clubs were badly run and suffered from bad management on and off the pitch.
Of course there are no guarantees in football and without being too pessimistic about the club’s chance of staying up this year, the players brought in now should be brought in with relegation in mind.
I’m not saying to just signing players with Championship experience is the way forward, that would be admitting defeat.
But relegation would provide the opportunity to weed out those scarred by years of failure or past their prime and those not totally committed to the club who wouldn’t accept playing outside of the top flight for one season.
The oportunity would be there to give younger players a chance they might not ordinarily get in the Premier League because the stop up is too great for them.
The anxiety felt by everyone over the last few seasons just doesn’t feel worth it anymore and I know I’ve got to the stage where the fear of relegation has worn off.
The club is on a good footing financially and can take the financial dent Leaving Sunderland for Darlington back in 1997,
I learned a valuable lesson in that sometimes you have to take a step backwards to take two forwards and in the long-term it can prove to be the best for everyone.
Keeping a core of players like Lee Cattermole, Jeremain Lens, Jermaine Defoe and holding on to Yann M’Vila too, could give the club some continuity needed to bridge the gap between a return to the Premier League.
Jordan Pickford could blossom with another season of Championship experience under his belt and become the club’s number one for years to come.
Young British players like Sam Byram at Leeds and Craig Dawson at West Brom could be targeted to give the stability needed in a new look defence and bringing in real physical presence in the side, particularly up front, which would give the team an authority that has been missing for too long.
The best case scenario is that survival is won and an overhaul is done at the same time but we’ve been saying that for a few seasons now.
Perhaps the worst thing that could happen this season could yet prove to be the best.