THE task facing Gus Poyet and his team is monumental.
Recent wins in the FA and Capital One Cup (including last night’s dramatic victory over Manchester United) have helped rebuild confidence, along with a strong come-back against Southampton at the weekend, but the road ahead is tough, very tough.
Competing on three fronts is never easy and before the Black Cats get back to league business they’ve had last night’s Capital One Cup semi-final second leg against Manchester United, and now must welcome Kidderminster to the Stadium Of Light on Saturday.
By the time the game against fellow strugglers Stoke comes around, Poyet’s side will need to be high in confidence if they are to survive.
Their run of games from February until the end of the season doesn’t make for good reading and it might just be one of the hardest run-ins about.
The first match in February is the Tyne-Wear derby, a massive game regardless of the connotations. Following that are Man City and Arsenal as well as a difficult start to March against West Brom and then Liverpool.
Three potentially massive games against Crystal Palace, Norwich and West Ham come after. The point here is that Sunderland literally have no ‘easy’ games between now and the end of the season.
Poyet’s squad will have to be on top form and the addition of centre-back Santiago Vergini could help bolster the back line, but goal scoring is the main issue at the Stadium of Light.
The top league goal scorer at the club is Adam Johnson with five goals and Steven Fletcher weighs in with an unimpressive three. The poorest of the bunch, Jozy Altidore has only scored once in the league this season. With time running out, Poyet needs to bring in some additional fire power.
A major factor in Sunderland’s survival will be their home form. Having secured only two home wins, this statistic needs to go up to at least ten come the end of the season and that would require eight wins from eight home games.
Whilst the win total on the road is exactly the same, it is a big ask to expect anything from Man City, Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and Man Utd, especially when they are all away from home.
The popular football cliche of ‘every game is a cup-final’ has never been as true as it is for Sunderland at this moment in time. If they aren’t facing Champions League contenders, then it’s relegation six-pointers.
As it stands, Sunderland sit six-points off of Aston Villa in 11th, which in itself is incredible and should give Poyet and his men the belief that they can do it.
Win all the home games, which is doable and the points total will sit on 39. Throw in an away win against Norwich for good measure and it’s 42 points. In a league this tight, 42 points could just be enough to survive.
If they slip up in any of these games, however, not only will their relegation rivals get in front of them, but they will then require points from teams at the top of the table away from home.
Bringing in a striker that will score goals is obviously easier said than done, but something needs to happen. Maybe Connor Wickham could come back from Sheffield Wednesday and pitch in with a few?
The first test will be against Stoke at the Stadium of Light on January 29th, a game that could kick-start the push for survival.
•This article was written by FTBpro’s Blair Ferguson
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