On the quiet, 2016 has proved to be profitable so far for Sunderland.
The Black Cats’ haul of 11 point in the seven games since the turn of the year has been imperative in providing gulps of oxygen to a survival bid which has at times been threatened with suffocation.
But an encouraging return over the last two months signals an upturn in form from Sam Allardyce’s side, testified by the performances against both Manchester clubs at the Stadium of Light.
Clearly, second bottom Sunderland will need to continue to average roughly a point-and-a-half per game if they are to avoid the drop. Victory over Man United has merely given the Black Cats hope, rather than a Get Out of Jail Free card.
Sunderland head to Sam Allardyce’s former stomping ground in buoyant spirits though; confident after a four-point haul from the last two games and mentally refreshed from a week of warm-weather training in Dubai.
The narrative of Sunderland’s challenge to remain in the Premier League against the club rejuvenated by Allardyce during a four-year spell makes an attractive yarn for the television cameras tomorrow lunchtime.
How much flak will fly through the Upton Park Fairy Liquid bubbles in the direction of the away dugout? Blah, blah, blah.
But tomorrow’s encounter cannot be taken in isolation in Sunderland’s survival bid.
This is a meteoric week for Sunderland in the context of the relegation battle, not just one game.
With trips to West Ham and Southampton, sandwiched by the visit of sinking Crystal Palace, the next eight days will largely decide which division Sunderland are in next season.
Sunderland don’t have to win them all. Only doomed basement boys Aston Villa are in reality facing that scenario.
Allardyce’s men will still have five home games to come after the trip to Southampton on Saturday-week, plus humongous away clashes against fellow strugglers Newcastle and Norwich.
But the next week is one where Sunderland can vastly improve their situation, or – on the flip side – leave themselves with too much to do.
Sunderland’s return from a daunting triple header against both Manchester clubs and Liverpool was an excellent four points – which could easily have been more, had Allardyce’s men taken their chances against Man City.
The Black Cats will probably need at least another four from the next three though to maintain an upward trajectory.
That target is not beyond them based on current form, albeit Southampton have rediscovered their mojo over recent weeks and West Ham are firmly in the mix for the top six.
But any more than four points would genuinely begin to instil a sense of widespread belief that Sunderland can escape the jaws of relegation again.
A poetic victory for Allardyce in the East End tomorrow would establish base camp midway up a steep peak, and allow Sunderland to cast their gaze towards the summit.