Survival fight: Five key games to decide Sunderland’s Premier League fate

Jermain Defoe in action for Sunderland against Norwich in August. The return away to the Canaries in April could be pivotal. Picture by Frank Reid
Jermain Defoe in action for Sunderland against Norwich in August. The return away to the Canaries in April could be pivotal. Picture by Frank Reid
0
Have your say

In the bowels of Liverpool’s famous Anfield stadium, Sam Allardyce was quizzed about how many wins the Black Cats needed from their remaining 13 games.

As quick as Jermain Defoe’s 88th-minute equaliser, Allardyce shot back: “13 games, six wins. They’ve done it before, haven’t they?”

Fast forward seven days and Sunderland had notched the first of those six, the 2-1 win over Manchester United which pulled them to within a point of safety.

But where will the other five wins come from in the remaining 12 games?

We highlight five matches that Sunderland stand the best chance of securing all three points in:

March 1 – Sunderland v Crystal Palace:

Sunderland resume their relegation battle with a busy few days, first Saturday’s lunchtime trip to West Ham followed by the home game with a Palace side who are struggling in the league but gained a welcome boost with yesterday’s FA Cup fifth round triumph at Tottenham.

And the game against Alan Pardew’s Eagles represents a good opportunity for the Black Cats to seal only their seventh league win.

Palace are currently in free-fall, having failed to win in the league since beating Stoke City in mid-December.

Since beating Mark Hughes’s side they have picked up just three league points and are away to West Brom before heading to the Stadium of Light.

Sunderland have already beaten them once this season. Don’t bet against Jermain Defoe netting another winner.

March 12 – Sunderland v Everton:

Everton, with their talent of riches, have massively under-performed this campaign.

The Toffees – with a squad including Ross Barkley, Romelu Lukaku and Gerard Deulofeu – should be far higher than 11th, with Leicester City, Southampton, West Ham, Watford and Stoke all above them.

Their form has been inconsistent all season, including seven draws away from home.

A real chance then, for Sunderland to pick up back-to-back home wins. Although it must be remembered that Everton, who moved into the FA Cup quarter-finals at the weekend, did thump the Black Cats 6-2 at Goodison Park back in November.

April 2 – Sunderland v West Brom:

Against the form book – with Sunderland having won the last six encounters – I’m predicting the eagerly-awaited Tyne-Wear derby to end all square.

While I’m expecting Newcastle to be a nervous wreck given their recent derby record, they are stronger at home than away.

Sunderland, though, have a good opportunity to return from the international break at Easter and pick up a home win over Tony Pulis’s West Brom.

Allardyce’s first match was away to the Baggies in October, a narrow defeat thanks to a controversial Saido Berahino goal after visiting keeper Costel Pantilimon had been fouled.

West Brom, 14th, are currently eight points clear of the bottom three. By the start of April they could be almost safe with little to play for.

A chance for Sunderland to exact revenge.

April 16 – Norwich City v Sunderland:

As pressure games go, Sunderland’s trip to Norfolk in mid-April is right up there.

Both clubs have been battling the drop all season and just a single point currently separates them.

Alex Neil’s Norwich – who beat Sunderland 3-1 away in August –have a reasonable home record, but recent matches have shown they are more than capable of throwing away a lead at Carrow Road.

They threw away a point against Liverpool in a crazy game that ended in a 5-4 defeat and three points at home to West Ham – the game ending 2-2.

Doomed Aston Villa have also beaten them in the last month. This could be the season-defining match.

May 15 – Watford v Sunderland:

The Hornets have enjoyed a remarkable season, but will they have anything to play for come the final game of the season?

A European spot is still very much in their sights at the moment, but Chelsea are slowly climbing the table and don’t bet against Everton coming good as the season reaches a climax.

The last thing Sunderland fans would want is to head into the final game needing a victory at Vicarage Road to survive.

But the way this season has panned out, the drama is likely to go down to the wire.

This would be a surprise victory. But the Black Cats will need to spring one or two shocks to survive.

Elsewhere, Aston Villa, fresh from their 6-0 home defeat to Liverpool, look doomed and have done since Sunderland beat them 3-1.

They are eight points adrift – or three wins – just to get out of the drop zone.

Bearing in mind they have only won three league games all season, there is no chance of that happening.

So, it looks like being two from Sunderland, Newcastle United, Norwich City, Swansea City and AFC Bournemouth – 15th but just four points from safety – for the other two relegation spots.

Last season, Sunderland (16th) and Aston Villa (17th) ended with 38 points – with third-bottom Hull City going down with 35 points.

But I think a higher points tally is needed this year.

The question is would five wins and a draw from 12 games – a total of 39 points – be enough for Sunderland?

Either way, supporters are guaranteed a nail-biting, frantic and nerve-shredding end to the season.

Sunderland’s remaining fixtures: Richard Mennear’s Prediction:

Sat 27 12:45 A West Ham Defeat

March

Tue 01 19:45 H Crystal Palace Win

Sat 05 15:00 A Southampton Defeat

Sat 12 15:00 H Everton Win

Sun 20 13:30 A Newcastle United Draw

April

Sat 02 15:00 H West Brom Win

Sat 09 15:00 H Leicester City Defeat

Sat 16 15:00 A Norwich City Win

Sat 23 15:00 H Arsenal Defeat

Sat 30 15:00 A Stoke City Defeat

May

Sat 07 15:00 H Chelsea Defeat

Sun 15 15:00 A Watford Win

Current Points Tally: 23

Predicted Total Points Tally: 39