David Jones: Sunshine break will help Sunderland, but they must claim more than 37 points to survive
Amidst all the continued discussion about the FA Cup’s relevance it’s hard to argue against the value of a fortnight’s break from competitive action to allow the players to refresh weary minds and body.
It doesn’t sound terribly romantic compared to the chance of seeing your team at Wembley or lifting the trophy which was last paraded around the streets of Wearside in 1973.
But with the benefit of hindsight, the third round draw which sent Sunderland to play against the cup holders Arsenal was probably the best possible outcome for Sam Allardyce.
He knows only too well that in an era when each Premier League season is worth a minimum £100m, Sunderland simply have more important priorities.
If the draw is kind and you manage to negotiate the opening rounds – as Saturday’s opponents West Ham have done – then you can start to dream about winning a trophy.
But for every Premier League club, the fear now has to be that the cup is nothing more than a distraction.
The trip to Upton Park will be the 30th game of the season for Sunderland, while West Ham – who started the season in the Europa League in July and have an FA Cup quarter final to look forward to – have already played eight matches more.
They’ve had a fantastic first season under the guidance of Slaven Bilic, who has certainly got the best from his star player Dimitri Payet; one Sunderland have to be hugely wary of on Saturday.
Payet has looked a creative genius in the claret and blue which is why it seems increasingly strange that the France coach Didier Deschamps continues to ignore his claims and even has Hatem Ben Arfa ahead of him in the pecking order!
Just a point behind Manchester United in fifth, the Hammers have every chance of qualifying for Europe again this season as long as they don’t run out of steam.
Of course our priorities lie elsewhere, with Sam targeting five more wins to keep us safe, but my fear is it might take even more than that.
The way things are going, more than the average 37 points will be required to survive this season; and that might set alarm bells ringing given Sunderland haven’t scraped more than 39 in the last three campaigns.
West Ham know something about this themselves; remember they went down in 2002-03 with a record 42 points.
Two factors combined to make that happen: first, Manchester United won the league that year with a relatively low tally of 83 points; secondly, the bottom club were relegated with one of the lowest returns in Premier League history. (That was us – a mere 19 points with Howard Wilkinson at the helm.)
So, with the top team taking fewer points and the bottom club being beaten by everyone there were plenty more points up for grabs for everyone else.
Much like this season, when Aston Villa are on course for 24 points at their current rate and Leicester – the only side averaging more than two points per game – are on track to win the league with 77 points as things stand.
History backs this up; only three times before has the Premier League title been claimed with fewer than 80 points and not at all since the 1990s.
And in each of those three seasons, the team finishing fourth from bottom has survived with at least 40 points.
The quicker Sunderland can get there the better and three points to wave goodbye to the Boleyn Ground in style would be a very welcome start.