David Jones analysis: Nerve-jangling finale for Sunderland
While Southampton are strong favourites to win on Saturday, our friends at SkyBet are not expecting a repeat of last season's thrashing. They make them 16/1 to score five or more while the clean sheet Sam Allarydce is desperate for is priced as a 5/1 shot.
It’s one thing to say that Aston Villa are doomed, that Crystal Palace are safe and that the title is nailed on for Leicester; we all know the reality is very different.
There are still 30 points to play for; 30 points which could power any of the top four towards the title and by the same token could see Sunderland charge up towards mid-table security.
And before you pour too much scorn on those suggestions remember Leicester’s season had barely started until April of the last campaign when they took 22 from the last 27 points available!
Writing before the Crystal Palace game - for which I made an unscheduled visit to the North East to come to last night - it’s hard to know how Sunderland will have reacted to the defeat at West Ham.
While, like everyone else, I was disappointed that we didn’t take at least a point from our last visit to Upton Park, I was encouraged by the second half performance and the number of chances we were able to create.
This Sunderland team is a different beast to the one Sam Allardyce inherited from Dick Advocaat.
It’s such a shame that he wasn’t able to take the reigns in the summer and start the overhaul of the squad sooner; if he had there is no way we would be in this position now.
It does feel like one step forward two steps back at times but while there are points to play for I will not be abandoning hope.
There will naturally be some trepidation around Sunderland’s next two games; two away fixtures at Southampton and Newcastle which could shape our destiny.
First, and it’s hard to believe because it seems like such a long time ago, our last trip to St Mary’s resulted in a record defeat.
Eighteen months have passed since Gus Poyet’s team crumbled to an 8-0 mauling on the south coast which could have been even worse.
That was the beginning of the end for Vito Mannone under Poyet, who you’ll remember then turned to Costel Pantilimon to provide more security between the posts.
Mannone has the chance for redemption on Saturday when he’s bound to be called upon and hopefully will stand up to the test.
There are other survivors too from that horror show beside the English Channel: John O’Shea and Patrick van Aanholt were all at sea that day, Lee Cattermole drowned by the onslaught from midfield, and Jack Rodwell who played the last 30 minutes, which was still time enough to concede five goals.
It was a depressingly bad day at the office for Sunderland and a remarkably good one for the Saints; but it was largely the same team which went on to win at St James’s Park in December of the same year, answering questions about their character and commitment.
To those two qualities Sunderland have now added steel and some guile too.
This is a team which can open sides up but to survive we must find a way to shut them out as well.
Between now and May when we learn our fate we will have few greater tests than Saturday’s at Southampton.
It would be a huge boost for the team to enter their two week build-up for the Derby with at least a point and further evidence progress is being made. And then of course the game which is certainly becoming the make or break for Sunderland and Newcastle ... more on which in the weeks to come!