WBA clash will be a nerve-ridden battle where Sunderland have no room for error
These nerve-riddled afternoons have almost become second nature for Sunderland fans over four successive years of toil.
Experience doesn’t make them any more enjoyable, particularly when the tension surrounding tomorrow’s encounter will be doubly fraught by the uncertainty over events at Carrow Road, as relegation rivals Newcastle and Norwich face off.
But there’s an understanding from supporters and players alike over what it takes to prevail in the survival battle after such prolonged recent experience in the dregs of the division.
It’s perhaps a reason why Sam Allardyce’s men have handled their nerve and performed well over recent weeks, until the last 10 minutes at least...
Sunderland have to cope with the occasion tomorrow, because there’s no room for error anymore. It’s do-or-die time for the Black Cats.
As this turgid two-week international break has dragged on, the frustration over Sunderland’s inability to hold onto the advantage against both Southampton and Newcastle has deepened.
Instead of sitting pretty on 30 points – needing to average just a point per game during the run-in – Allardyce’s side have left themselves with little room for error after conceding those sickening late equalisers in the last two games.
Perhaps the four victories targeted by Allardyce won’t be required for Sunderland to ultimately beat the drop.
But with a two-point gap to bridge with Norwich and the Canaries facing an inviting run of games against Newcastle, sinking Crystal Palace and then Sunderland, the Black Cats surely need to win at least three.
Looking at the remaining fixtures at the Stadium of Light, the visit of a West Brom side now free from relegation worries and nestled comfortably in mid-table, is by far the most attractive proposition for Sunderland to get at least one of those victories.
Yes, Allardyce’s men are perfectly capable of taking the scalp of an Arsenal, Chelsea or Leicester, but they can ill-afford to be needing three wins from the last five games or some such uphill task.
Unlike Sunderland, the Baggies have mastered the knack of doing sufficient to reach the winning post, even if they have not been particularly convincing in the process.
Yet amidst questions over Tony Pulis’ future and having reached a total which will comfortably suffice for survival, will there be an element of flip-flops on the beach? The Hawthorns defeat to Norwich a fortnight ago might suggest as much.
Sunderland old boys Stephane Sessegnon, Craig Gardner and particularly James McClean won’t be downing tools on their return to Wearside tomorrow.
But there can be no more hard-luck tales, no more ‘what might have beens’ if Sunderland are to stay up.
The first of the final eight games has to start as Sunderland mean to go on.