If Sunderland do something implausibly outré and follow a win over Crystal Palace with another one against Southampton, the chances are they will vacate the bottom three for the first time this season.
It is possible that a turning point has been reached. If so then it started not at Selhurst Park, but at home to Tottenham four days earlier when for the most part they played equally well.
The difference between the Palace and Spurs games was the quality of opposition and the standard of Sunderland’s finishing.
David Moyes’ side can give anyone a game when they apply some concentration and confidence. They have given some respectable performances against the best teams this season.
The return of Lamine Koné and the rapidly improving Didier N’Dong, a superb debut from Bryan Oviedo and the near-priceless presence of Jermain Defoe have all contributed to a little excitement for a change. Jordan Pickford is nearing fitness too.
Of course we may have just experienced a blip and no sensible person can be certain that David Moyes’ team will avoid relegation. After all they remain bottom and we can’t be sure if the current form of all the players named above will continue – or if they will stay fit.
Nevertheless, hope lives. I am perplexed by people who abandoned it. There has been every reason to be despondent, fearful and to predict relegation.
We all know how bad Sunderland can be and people may, on balance, quite reasonably think the Championship awaits. But to state – as unimpeachable fact – that they are for the chop is a little weird.
What creates such certainty? Every season too. It permeates the phone-ins, the general chatter and – the real home of sneering, bilious negativity – the internet.
In 2013-14 Sunderland were bottom and seven points from safety with six games remaining, three of which were against the two Manchester clubs and Chelsea. They were safe with a game to spare and finished 14th.
Despite this and other unlikely but true stories, I regularly encounter people in who “know” that Sunderland have had it; that they can’t keep wriggling out of it like this.
Can’t they? The same people say the same thing every year and are undeterred in their unshakeable certainty by having been annually wrong for some time now; in some cases a decade.
I’m sure about nothing. The only assumption we can safely make is that it’s never safe to assume.