When Sunderland’s survival bid was floundering at the start of 2016, draws became a slight obsession for Sam Allardyce in his bid to gain a foothold on a slippery slope.
Sunderland failed to register a share of the spoils in Allardyce’s first 14 games at the helm, despite presentable opportunities to at least add a solitary point to the tally (and boy how those draws added up last season to eventually get the Black Cats over the finish line).
I want us to start the platform next week, not when we get to Norwich and say this is a ‘must win’ game.Sam Allardyce
The 1-0 defeats against West Brom, Southampton and Watford were all games where Sunderland could - and should - have finished with a 0-0 or 1-1.
Even London defeats at Arsenal and Spurs needled away at Allardyce after Sunderland were level in both games as the clock ticked towards the hour mark.
The curse was finally broken in January’s 1-1 against Bournemouth; a game where there was a sense that Allardyce was desperate to register that elusive draw, rather than go all-out for victory.
But ultimately, draws have hamstrung Sunderland’s attempts to remain in the Premier League and may ultimately provide the shove which sends them over the cliff-face and into the Championship.
Five of Sunderland’s last seven games have finished level, despite the influx of January signings prompting a significant upturn in the performance levels of Allardyce’s men.
Had even two of those five culminated in victories, Sunderland would now be out of the relegation zone.
Perversely, if Sunderland finish Even-Stevens against league leaders Leicester on Sunday, it would be a decent result, despite the desperate need to close the four-point gap on Norwich. After all, the Foxes have taken 25 points out of a possible 30.
But Allardyce wants Sunderland to break the run of four successive draws this weekend and record a win which would provide an ideal platform for a pivotal encounter at relegation rivals Norwich six days later.
“I was complaining about a lack of draws a while ago, but now we’ve got too many and not enough wins,” said Allardyce.
“I want to beat Leicester next week.
“I want us to start the platform next week, not when we get to Norwich and say this is a ‘must win’ game.
“We’re gaining points, but not enough.
“Let’s go and beat Leicester and upset the apple cart.”
Allardyce admits he sympathises with his players that their efforts have not been sufficient to lift Sunderland out of the relegation zone, with the four point deficit to Norwich now looking grim, despite the Black Cats boasting a game in hand.
But if there is a source of solace for the ex-West Ham boss, it is that Sunderland have shown few signs of anxiety in recent games, despite their perilous plight.
“We look very good at dealing with the pressure at the moment, so I hope we can carry on with that and turn performances into victories very quickly,” he added.
“I believe we can.
“It’s such a shame for the players. I feel so deeply for them.
“The fans can see how far we’ve come in a short period of time; how much better we are as a team compared to two months ago.”