SUNDERLAND dropped two places in the Premier League table today – from 15th spot to a distinctively uncomfortable 17th – as Newcastle United and Aston Villa moved above the Wearsiders.
Newcastle survived something of a siege against West Ham at Upton Park to eke out an away point and climb from 37 points to 38, while Aston Villa went one better – beating Norwich City at Carrow Road to reach the 40-point mark.
But of more concern to head coach Paolo Di Canio and his squad will be third-bottom Wigan’s stunning victory over top-half-of-the-table West Brom, to put the Latics on 35 points – just two behind Sunderland.
All the games at the bottom were important on an absorbing Saturday afternoon’s football, but Wigan’s was undoubtedly the most important of the lot.
Defeat or even a draw at The Hawthorns would have left the Latics – who have to contest the FA Cup final next weekend – in danger of being adrift in the bottom three with games running out.
But victory leaves them within striking distance of safety and puts extra pressure on the teams above.
It certainly ups the ante for Sunderland’s game against Stoke on Monday – the game in hand they have on the teams currently above them.
A win for the Black Cats would take them up to the 40-point mark which usually signifies Premier League safety.
A decent victory would take them up to 12th or even 11th place, but, more importantly, with Sunderland having a better goal difference than their rivals, it would almost certainly ensure their survival.
Meanwhile, clubs continue to wait for Wigan to fail.
But with Roberto Martinez’s Latics refusing to buckle, the pressure is heating up on the rest.
And no-one in the bottom half of the table can feel completely sure they will not end up in the final place in the bottom three come the end of the season..
Sunderland at least have it clear in their minds what they need to do now on Monday at the Stadium of Light.
Defeat would leave them among the favourites for the drop, with a tricky game against fellow strugglers Southampton and a daunting trip to Spurs to come.
A draw on Monday would lift Di Canio’s man two places back up the table – this time at the expense of Newcastle and Norwich, rather than Newcastle and Villa.
A win, though, would guarantee them going above Newcastle, Norwich, Southampton and Villa.
It would also leave Newcastle fourth bottom with Wigan having a game in hand on the Tynesiders AND a better goal difference.
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