Four points from survival. Mad, isn’t it?
Despite the turmoil of two changes of manager and eight months of depressingly inept performances, that’s all that separates Sunderland from the seemingly inevitable fate of relegation and survival. It’s difficult to fathom really.
Clubs in this kind of crisis don’t usually have this much of a foothold to climb back up the table, yet remarkably we do.
Surrounded by poor performances on the pitch, despondency in the stands and lacking in any direction at board level, that four-point gap feels like a ‘get out of jail card’ right now.
With every result, I check the league tables and react with incredulity at not being able to write us off.
In the pit of my gut, relegation feels like an inevitability, that’s it’s almost deserved, yet two positive results could change everything.
Of course, we’ll need more than just two wins in the next 13 games to stand any chance of staying up, but, as much as I feel like folding my cards and throwing them petulantly on the table, looking at it in black and white feeds the little faith I have left.
Take a look at the other clubs above us and you can see six clubs we can realistically reel in. All are going through rough times of their own.
Listening to Steve Cotterill after Birmingham’s five-goal defeat to Brentford made me realise that we aren’t alone in our slump.
Defeats can happen, but it’s the manner in which they do that concerns and they have the look a beaten side. And we’re well versed in what one of those looks like.
The strange thing is Cotterill’s side were far from the worst side I’d seen in the Championship this season when they paid us a visit in December, but, as always, any praise I give to a side has to come with the caveat of “but it was only against us”.
Defeats by Birmingham, Barnsley, Bolton and Reading have hurt more than most. Those games are just as much ‘not lose’ games as there are ‘must win’.
Three points to teams just above us are more valuable when taken from us and that’s why the remaining game against those in the bottom half of the division are so vital now.
So it’s that time of year again when I get out my crystal ball and try to predict what points we could realistically get from now to the end of the season.
Worryingly though, it looks as if it’s going to take something unrealistic to keep us up.
In the previous 20 seasons up to the present one, the average total of points the side finishing fourth bottom has won is 49.5 and the lowest of those was Birmingham’s 44 points when they stayed up on goal difference in 2013/14.
So if we are to stay up, it’s going to take a mammoth effort of 1.4 points per game.
Seeing as we’re averaging just 0.8 per game right now, that’s a big ask, especially since I can only see us accumulating another 12 points to take us up to 38.
I’ve taken us for draws against Middlesbrough and Aston Villa at home and Reading away. Then a win away at QPR and two home wins against Sheffield Wednesday and Burton.
It still feels overly ambitious, given the individual and collective performances, but overly ambitious is exactly what is needed.
The optimists among us are always looking for turning points, for signs of a revival, but there’s overly ambitious and there’s delusional.
This side is going to have to grind its way to survival, not blow opposition away.
I wasn’t buying any of the “turning point’ stuff that was going around after the 3-3 draw at Bristol City. Playing football takes guts at 0-0, not at three goals down.
That’s easy, no pressure stuff but it’s what happens when confidence is low.
You become reactive instead of taking control of the game.
You’re waiting to go 1-0 up to give you something to defend or wait until you are a couple of goals behind and the pressure is off before freeing yourself up to start playing.
Tuesday night at Bolton was an improved performance and left Chris Coleman upbeat, but it was still a fruitless trip to a relegation rival nonetheless.
It makes me wonder what he must be thinking now, as the games begin to run out, as to what else can be done that he hasn’t already tried?
As Cotterill alluded to the other night, when the chips are down it’s as much about the mental qualities of his side, as it is the technical and tactical instructions given by the manager.
Call it mental strength. Call it bottle. Call it whatever you like.
When it seems like the whole world is against you, it’s about standing up and proving everyone wrong and that’s something we haven’t had anywhere near enough of that this season.