SUNDERLAND 10 YEARS AGO: Cats’ big blow - promotion impossible?

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Here’s what the Echo was reporting on SAFC 10 years ago today.

CATS’ BIG BLOW

Earnshaw on target to kill off Sunderland (Norwich City 1 Sunderland 0)

Sunderland slumped to their ninth defeat in 16 league games against Norwich this afternoon as the Roy Keane revolution slipped further off the rails.

On the balance of play, the Wearsiders deserved to win after dominating both the first and second halves at Carrow Road.

In the opening period, Sunderland were denied goals only by fine saves from Paul Gallacher, who frustrated David Connolly twice and Toby Hysen once when Sunderland looked certain to score.

In the second half, Sunderland were again the better team, but the moment that counted came in the 51st minute when City hit Sunderland on the break to score the only goal of the game.

Darren Huckerby passed forward down to the left to Paul McVeigh and the midfielder swept a pass up to Robert Earnshaw, who used his pace to take him away from Danny Collins and sweep a low shot across Darren Ward from right of goal.

The last half hour saw Sunderland virtually laying siege to the Canaries’ goal, but, try as they might, Sunderland could find no way through and were even denied what looked like two stonewall penalties in the space of a minute.

In the 72nd minute Dion Dublin seemed to pull back sub Daryl Murphy in the area and seconds later he clearly hand-balled, but both times referee Mike Riley waved play on.

Defeat sent Sunderland down to 17th place.

OUT OF KEANE’S REACH ALREADY

Only incredible run will be good enough for automatic promotion

Sunderland need to produce a phenomenal run of results if they are to have any hope of automatic promotion this season.

A search through the record books since the Premiership began shows that clubs gaining automatic promotion have lost, om average, fewer than 10 games.

The Black Cats had already lost eight of their 15 Championship outings before travelling to Norwich today. The bottom three clubs in the league, Southend, Barnsley and Hull, had lost only one more game in the same period.

Last season, Reading recorded not only a record points to win the Championship – their haul of 106 points beating Sunderland’s previous best of 105 fro 1999 – but they also had the fewest defeats by any club climbing into the Premiership.

Steve Coppell’s Royals lost only twice – 2-1 on the first day of the season at home to Plymouth and 3-2 at Luton in February – during a majestic march to the big time.

Again, Reading beat a previous record set by Sunderland, who lost only three games during their title-winning 1998-99 season.

Since the premiership began, the winners of the old First Division/Championship have lost an average of seven games, while the second-placed side have lost an average of nine.

But football cannot be measured on statistics alone, of course, and there were exceptional seasons that proved an automatic promotion slot is not necessarily beyond Sunderland.

The highest number of defeats by teams winning the old First Division was 10 by Crystal Palace in 1993-94 and Middlesbrough the following season.

The most defeats for runners-up was 13 by Reading in 1883-94, but only one automatic promotion place was up for grabs that season as the Premiership slimmed down and the unfortunate Royals lost in the play-offs to third-placed Bolton.

With about a third of the season gone, few more slip-ups can be allowed if the increasingly unlikely target of a top two finish is to be achieved.

Otherwise, it’s the dreaded play-offs – at best!

NUMBER OF LOSSES BY CLUBS AUTOMATICALLY PROMOTED SINCE THE START OF THE PREMIERSHIP:

2005-06: Reading 2, Sheffield United 8

2005-05: Sunderland 10, Wigan 9

2003-04: Norwich 9, West Brom 10

2002-03: Portsmouth 6, Leicester 6

2001-02: Man City 9, West Brom 11

2000-01: Fulham 5, Blackburn 7

1999-2000: Charlton 7, Man City 9

1998-99: Sunderland 3, Bradford 11

1997-98: Nottm Forest 8, Middlesbrough 9

1996-97: Bolton 4, Barnsley 10

1995-96: Sunderland 7, Derby 9

1994-95: Middlesbrough 10 (only one team promoted automatically)

1993-94: Crystal Palace 10, Nottm Forest 9

1992-93: Newcastle 8, West Ham 10

Average number of defeats by teams winning the league: 7

Average number of defeats by teams finishing second: 9

Tuesday’s defeat at home to Cardiff also brought up the 15-game mark – a third of the Championship season.

Sunderland, with only 19 points ahead of today’s match at Norwich, have only had six worse starts to a season at this level in 29 attempts.

And the eight defeats in the first 15 games is the second highest tally in those 29 campaigns, with only Sunderland’s dismal first ever season out of the top flight – in 1958-59 – managing more, with nine losses out of 15.

Position-wise, Sunderland have been worse off than the 15th spot they occupied before this weekend’s games just four times.