How straightforward it will be if Sunderland win all three of their remaining games and Sam Allardyce’s men instantly guarantee their place in the Premier League next season.
That’s the easy part in delving through the mathematical equations and finding the various routes which can see Sunderland persist in competing at the top table of English football.
By the time the last game comes around, we have to be above NewcastleSam Allardyce
It’s not particularly testing to work out how Sunderland can finish above second bottom Norwich. The Canaries would have to register two more points than the Black Cats in these last three outings, due to their inferior goal difference.
But a resurgent Newcastle side, who have taken eight points out of a possible 12, increasingly look to be Sunderland’s biggest survival threat and that’s where it gets complicated.
The draw salvaged by Jermain Defoe at Stoke City could prove to be invaluable and at least restricted the gap with the fourth bottom Magpies to a solitary point.
Again, Sunderland’s superiority in the goal difference column comes into play, with seven points from the last three ensuring that the Black Cats finish above the Magpies.
Even if Sunderland can only manage a draw against Chelsea on Saturday and Newcastle triumph at whipping boys Aston Villa to extend their safety buffer to three points, it’s not necessarily curtains.
Allardyce’s side would still be able to leap-frog the Magpies on goal difference if they win their game in hand against Everton next Wednesday.
Sitting above Newcastle heading into the final day trip to Watford is the thrust of Allardyce’s message to his players this week, to ensure that Sunderland’s fate remains in their own hands heading into the last 90 minutes of the campaign.
“We’ve got a game in hand and when that comes around, we’ve got to be in a position to go above Newcastle, if we win it,” said Allardyce.
“It’s as simple as that.
“We’re both going to be playing on Saturday. If we can win that, then you’ve got to expect that Newcastle will win at Aston Villa.
“Then we play against Everton, which looks the biggest game of the season to try to go above Newcastle.
“By the time the last game comes around, we have to be above Newcastle, even if it’s only goal difference.
“Then our destiny is in our own hands.”
Draws have become Sunderland’s biggest problem over recent weeks – ironically so, given the Black Cats had to wait three months to register one under Allardyce.
Six of the last 10 games have finished all square, with an inability to convert one point into three against the likes of Southampton, Newcastle and West Brom remaining a source of deep frustration for Allardyce.
The Sunderland boss knows that his side now have little choice than to discover a winning habit – even if they are facing last season’s champions Chelsea this weekend.
“I’ve got to say that the lads have had so many opportunities to put themselves safe that we’re running out of time,” he added.
“We have to start taking them.
“Even though it’s a difficult game against Chelsea, it has to start then.
“We need to find a winning mentality in the last few games, and then we’ll be okay.”