Richard Mennear: What a difference a couple of weeks make for Sunderland

Sam Allardyce
Sam Allardyce
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What a difference a couple of weeks make, hey?

After the narrow 1-0 home defeat to Manchester City, Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce declared his struggling side to be in ‘big trouble’.

The big question is do Sunderland have enough time to drag themselves out of trouble again?

Richard Mennear

Sergio Aguero’s 16th minute strike was enough to seal all three points for Manuel Pellegrini’s side and leave Sunderland second-bottom, four points from safety.

Sunderland had played well but came away with nothing to show for it.

While there was praise for the performance, there was despair about the increasingly perilous position with tough games to follow.

Fast forward two weeks and hope has been restored on Wearside that this Sunderland squad is good enough and does have enough character to extend their stay in the top flight.

Four points against Liverpool and Manchester United has seen Sunderland go within a point of safety.

But more importantly, with relegation rivals Norwich City and Newcastle United still to play this season, their fate remains very much in their own hands.

The run of home games against Crystal Palace, Everton and West Brom are all good opportunities to pick up wins.

They have a daunting end to the campaign with Chelsea at home followed by Watford away but both those sides are likely to have little more than pride to play for come May.

Nail-biting? For sure. Tense? You better believe it. Intriguing? Both ends of the Premier League table are wide open and Sunderland fans better buckle up for another bumpy ride.

Key to Sunderland’s survival over the coming months is going to be keeping the spine of the team fit.

When fit and on form it is strong enough to rival most Premier League sides.

John O’Shea and Lamine Kone have quickly formed a solid defensive partnership, with the younger legs of Kone complimenting the experience of O’Shea well.

Kone is the real deal, quick, athletic, uncompromising. And he has an eye for goal too, even if he wasn’t credited with the winner against Manchester United.

In midfield, Jan Kirchhoff impressed in the City defeat, Wahbi Khazri has been outstanding while Yann M’Vila has been the star of the show all season and up front Jermain Defoe looks as sharp as ever despite his increasing years.

10 goals and counting this season. Keep them all fit and firing and Sunderland should have enough to escape the drop.

It is in their own hands, after all.

It was good to see former Sunderland boss Dick Advocaat make his return to football this week.

Fondly remembered on Wearside for his efforts in keeping the Black Cats up against the odds last season, he has now joined Feyenoord’s technical staff as an advisor to his former player Giovanni van Bronckhorst.

It is understood he will be working unpaid until the end of the season as he looks to help van Bronckhorst get struggling Feyenoord back firing.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing but where would Sunderland have been if Advocaat had stuck by his original decision to retire at the end of the last campaign?

Imagine if Sam Allardyce had been appointed manager and given the summer to get rid of the deadwood and bring in the likes of Lamine Kone and Wahbi Khazri then.

Sunderland would be comfortably mid-table, I’d bet.

Sadly, we’ll never know the answer to those questions.

Instead, Advocaat performed a dramatic U-turn and decided to stay but Sunderland couldn’t bring in the talent needed to transform the squad.

By October, Advocaat had resigned, stating the Sunderland squad wasn’t good enough to stay up. Maybe he was right.

But Allardyce has managed to revamp the squad mid-season, with Kone, Khazri, Jan Kirchhoff and Dame N’Doye all coming in and Jordi Gomez, Will Buckley, Liam Bridcutt, Danny Graham, Steven Fletcher and Costel Pantilimon departing.

The big question is do Sunderland have enough time to drag themselves out of trouble again?

Recent signs have been positive.

The squad that started the season probably wasn’t good enough to stay up but the current crop have shown they are.