THE SEASON is just a quarter old, yet Sunderland have already faced a pair of do-or-die moments.
A first victory of the campaign – at the fifth time of asking – was imperative when Stoke City visited Wearside in September, while the trip to fellow strugglers Bolton held similarly lofty repercussions after a run of two defeats in three.
The outcome of tomorrow’s visit of Wigan Athletic is another pivotal moment as Sunderland look to keep their heads above the water until a run of consistency finally arrives.
Should the Latics record a first win since August, it will not fulfil the wishes of the vocal minority by immediately ushering Steve Bruce out of the Black Cats dug-out.
But anything other than victory tomorrow would inevitably create a ground swell of sentiment against the Sunderland boss on the terraces, for again failing to capitalise on an inviting run of games.
Lofty predictions of 10 or 12 points against Fulham, Wigan, Wolves and Blackburn was a tough ask for a Sunderland side hardly brimming with confidence.
Given the standard of opposition after these “big four” games though, Bruce’s men can ill-afford to register less than a seven-point tally if they are to push themselves towards the top of a concertinaed bunch.
Depending on the outcome tomorrow, last weekend’s anti-climatic stalemate with Fulham will either be perceived as a reasonable point against well-drilled opposition or another letdown in a year of dismal Stadium of Light fare.
Wigan’s desperate run of form only serves to further crank up the expectations on Sunderland.
The Latics were the perfect tonic to Sunderland’s slump in the second half of last season and minus the departed Charles N’Zogbia, they are inviting prey for the Black Cats.
READ the full verdict in Friday’s Echo