Ever the realist, Sam Allardyce shied away from setting a coupon-busting initial points target after becoming Sunderland’s latest fire-fighter.
Upon inheriting a team languishing in the relegation zone; without a win to their names all season, Allardyce grasped that this would be a sluggish, months-long crawl towards safety, rather than the threat of the drop banishing overnight.
As he began to draw up a Powerpoint presentation for Sunderland’s players, to inform them in precise detail what was needed to remain in the Premier League, Allardyce’s first base camp was at a low altitude.
He wanted Sunderland’s points total to have reached double figures by his eighth game at the helm.
That equated to a modest seven points from eight games, albeit Sunderland had taken just three from the first eight.
It also marked the end (on paper) of a decent run of fixtures before the ominous festive triple header against Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool.
Realistically, Sunderland are going to require around six points from the next six games if they are to have a foundation to beat the drop
Monday night’s win at Crystal Palace has instantly put Sunderland on course to fulfil Allardyce’s objective, with one point from the next three taking the Black Cats into double figures.
With the next two home games against Stoke and Watford, Sunderland are a decent bet to get that one point, and what a game-changer it would be if they could mount back-to-back victories for the first time this season against the Potters this weekend.
That’s why the unexpected Palace success was so huge. Sunderland needed to pull a rabbit from some kind of head-gear to forge a sense of upwards momentum and now they have a platform to genuinely change the complexion of the relegation fight.
There’s a touch of life back among supporters too, just as disillusioned apathy was beginning to reign.
But three points at Selhurst Park for the second year on the spin was only the first stage of Sunderland’s recovery.
It’s the bottom of a very tall mountain.
Several more additions need to be made to Sunderland’s tally before the end of 2016 – which marks the halfway point of the campaign – regardless of the calibre of the opposition the Black Cats face next month.
Realistically, Sunderland are going to require around six points from the next six games if they are to have a foundation to beat the drop.
That would still leave Allardyce facing an uphill challenge to steer Sunderland to safety in the second half of the season, but it would not be an insurmountable task.
Look back to 2013-14 prior to Gus Poyet’s ‘miracle’ Great Escape and Sunderland were bottom of the pile at the halfway mark, with 14 points on the board.
Last season, Leicester – who became only the third team to beat the drop after propping up the table at Christmas – had 13 points at the same stage.
Anything less... well, just take an objective look at this year’s relegation rivals Aston Villa.
They are just four points worse off than Sunderland, but can anyone realistically see them beating the drop if they fail to beat Watford at Villa Park this weekend?
Villa’s prospects look desperately bleak.
Even Sunderland’s aren’t healthy.
They are going to need at least one more win from these next six games, possibly two.
If the past few weeks are anything to go by, Allardyce will avoid designating encounters as “must win” in a bid to shield his players from the constant mental pressure of the relegation battle.
It’s been a cute move from Allardyce to adopt a philosophy of “Do Not Lose” first and foremost.
It removes that gnawing feeling that Sunderland have to keep spinning the roulette wheel and gamble to get a win at all costs .
Perhaps a factor in the gung-ho kamikaze approach after drawing level at Everton earlier this month.
Every point is valuable for Sunderland in the plight they’re in and there is plenty of time to get the required quantity of victories.
Let’s face it, considering Stoke have not conceded away from home since September, a draw would not be the worst result in the world for the Black Cats.
But this run-in to the New Year MUST continue to be productive to give Sunderland a prayer.
They need at least one last win in 2015.