Tony Gillan: Sunderland can trouble Swansea City in basement '˜cup final' clash
It has taken an uncomfortably long time to show it, but Sunderland are apparently not that bad after all.
Matters remain worrying. On a film poster the words “not that bad after all” would be unlikely to instigate a stampede to the cinema.
They remain in the bottom three and can’t lay fervent claim to being that good either.
The fear that Jermain Defoe might be unavailable for whatever reason remains almost palpable. And we will only believe that Yann M’Vila is a Sunderland player again when we actually see it.
The win at Bournemouth did not excite, welcome though it was. It was attributed in some quarters, not unreasonably, to the law of averages. Monkeys and typewriters.
But further wins over bogey team Hull and champions Leicester, plus a decent show at Liverpool mean that other clubs current categorisation of Sunderland has moved from “we should beat them” to “awkward.” A comparatively meteoric rise.
As is the case most seasons, Sunderland’s principal asset is the (hopefully) greater shortcomings of other sides.
The day after the win at Bournemouth, Chris Sutton could be heard dismissing Sunderland’s survival chances. He has since done a volte-face. We can’t blame him for any of this.
More interesting was his assertion on November 6 that Swansea have a squad with more quality than Sunderland’s. He may yet be proved correct and the Welsh club are far from sunk. But Sutton spoke as though he was comparing Bayern Munich with Witherwack Over-40s. What did he see in Swansea?
Mike Phelan appears to have been given a thankless task at Hull City. West Ham’s 2015-16 season seems more like a one-off with each passing week, bearing in mind that they only finished seventh; not top as they seem to imagine.
Claudio Ranieri has admitted that Leicester are relegation candidates. Burnley are in serious trouble if they become half as bad at home as they are away.
Crystal Palace have only won one of their last eight. Middlesbrough are just four points clear of third bottom; and a sudden plummet for Bournemouth or Watford is not inconceivable.
Furthermore, it took until about this time last season for the “experts” to realise that Aston Villa and Newcastle just might not be better than Sunderland; as they had previously and quite mystifyingly reiterated.
This week’s trip to Swansea is one to be wary of – but not frightened.
Their defender Jordi Amat has described the fixture as “a final.” It’s no such thing, although it is important and such hyperbole suggests that Bob Bradley’s side are a little jumpy.
Well they might be having just conceded nine times in two games.
Sunderland’s survival depends as much on minds as feet. Of their next six league fixtures, three are against Swansea, Watford and Burnley; direct rivals and increasingly unconfident teams.
The other three are against Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool, when there will be nothing to lose.
Don’t worry about any of them. Just play.