Pete Sixsmith says we will go down unless we win four games. Big Sam sets the same target. With only seven left, and looking at who we face in them, it takes a serious half-glass full believer to have much faith in that happening.
“Can we halt the Leicester juggernaut and drive the Foxes into a hole?” Sixer asked at the start of a splendid trawl through the nicknames of those opponents. ” Having done that, can we survive the plastic clappers at Carrow Road and knock the Canaries off their perch? Can we silence the Gunners, break the Potters and consign the Pensioners to their barracks. Will we come unstuck against the Toffees before drawing the sting from the Hornets?”
It looks beyond us. But it can be done, subject to rather a lot of Ifs.
Let us start with a man whose glass is half full and rising. Paul Summerside had this to say at Salut! Sunderland‘s Facebook pages. He deserves to be proved right if only for the wonderful show of optimism:
Beat Norwich, point v Everton from game in hand catches Norwich. We then need to mirror or better Norwich results to survive. Both teams have difficult run ins. Mags have slightly easier run in but too much ground to make, and terrible goal difference. Sunderland to survive by goal difference!
Paul’s calculations even allow for a home defeat to rampant (if all those 1-0s can truly be described as rampant) Leicester City on Sunday, provided Norwich falter at Palace the day before. Monsieur Salut fears the former is more likely than the latter, unless Pardew somehow builds on his side’s late fightback at West Ham.
But beating Leicester, while improbable, is not impossible. They have been grinding out their one goal victories. We have been getting steadily better. With a little luck – and yes, more penetrative play – we’d have beaten West Brom by two or three goals. Albion drew at Leicester recently.
Then we look who has managed to beat Leicester so far this season: Arsenal, twice, and Liverpool at Anfield. Arsenal might have struggled to win at the Emirates but for Danny Simpson’s sending off with City ahead. But they won at a canter at the King Power stadium, 5-2. When winning 3-1 in their home game against us, the Gunners were really quite fortunate. Peter Cech was the man of the match, saving them repeatedly, and a draw was the least we deserved (and would have got, if only PvA’s late chance had hit the net). At Liverpool, we clawed a way back into a game that seemed lost and drew 2-2.
None of this may help us when it comes to 1.30pm on Sunday, but it gives us hope.
What I mean is that we are not as bad as we sometimes believe. The widespread belief, that we would not be in remotely this position had Big Sam been in charge since August, is a compelling one. He bemoans our lack of luck: unless it is to be against us for the rest of the season, we may even get some of our own in time for this game and the six to follow, the one after Leicester – Norwich away – unquestionably being the big one. We have a poor record there in recent times; it’ll be an occasion for strong hearts and cool heads. And we absolutely have to get something from that spare game – home to Everton a few days before the season ends for us at Watford.
If it doesn’t come off for Sunderland, no one else – referees, linesmen, lucky opponents – will be to blame. Over 38 games, there’s opportunity aplenty to compensate for these factors and we simply haven’t performed well enough, often enough to turn defeats into draws, draws into wins.
As Sixer put it when completing his exploration of football club nicknames with a look at the worst case scenario for next season: “If we can’t [do it], it looks like we will have to trash the Terriers, murder the Millers and clobber the Cottagers.”
But at least we have until Saturday lunchtime to imagine with a smile, however fanciful others may see this, how much better things might just look when the final whistle is blown on the early kickoff on April 16. And if I haven’t mentioned either Villa or Newcastle, it’s because there is no need to if we get our own work done.