THE fortnight’s break has given us pause for thought in terms of the season and a chance to reassess what Sunderland must be looking for from the campaign now.
Back in August, I would have agreed with what were the club’s implicitly suggested aims of a good cup run and a top 10 finish.
I think that was realistic – where Sunderland are now as a Premier League club, these were good goals to aim for.
The cups just didn’t happen for us though and I don’t want to revisit the specifics of that in this week’s column – suffice to say you’re always going to look back on cup exits with regret and disappointment if you go out to lower league opposition at home.
That leaves us with the top 10 finish to go for and it goes without saying that all of Sunderland’s energy and focus has to be devoted to that goal now.
The big question is, are they capable of doing it?
My view is that these next four games will tell us, because if Sunderland aren’t in the top 10 by the end of them, they’ll struggle to pull it off.
The games are against West Brom, Fulham, QPR and Norwich – all of them against teams either around us or below us.
Now I know that no Premier League game is easy, but if we are serious about being a top 10 club then these are games we have to do well in.
If we want to be a top 10 club, these are the teams that we have to beat – not just hope to beat, but almost expect to beat.
We have consecutive games against Chelsea and Manchester United after these four games and if we are not in the top 10 by the time we go to Stamford Bridge, well, maybe it will be time to look over our shoulders in the division rather than looking above us in the table.
I cannot over-state the importance of this forthcoming quartet of games.
We have failed to do as well as we would have hoped in the League Cup. We have failed to do as well as we would have hoped in the FA Cup.
Now we have this top 10 finish as the sole aim of our season.
And if we don’t prosper in these next four games, then realistically our only real goal of the season, will be ensuring that we stay in this division.
* Read Gary Rowell’s views in full only in today’s Sunderland Echo