My guesswork is uncomplimentary to Sunderland and our chances of avoiding relegation. Why not carry out the same exercise yourselves and see how you place us and our relegation co-strugglers. I hope – the hope we cannot stand – to be proved alarmist and plain wrong. Here are extracts from my preview of SAFC vs Saints at ESPN (see full article at http://www.espnfc.com/club/sunderland/366/blog/post/2426131/sunderland-premier-league-options-running-out …
Six months after inflicting one of the most humiliating defeats in Sunderland’s history, Southampton visit the Stadium of Light on Saturday for a game that could reinforce suspicion that the Wearsiders’ latest Premier League stay is almost over.
Eight years after Roy Keane led Sunderland back to the top-flight in exhilarating style, current boss Dick Advocaat knows his own managerial skills have rarely been subjected to a tougher examination.
A sense of resignation has already set in among many of the fans who have gathered in absurdly high numbers, given their team’s abysmal quality of football, throughout a horrific season.
Few remember when Sunderland’s grounds, the Stadium of Light of today and Roker Park before it, were routinely described as fortresses. Just three home wins, and some emphatic scorelines among the defeats, tell their own story of the current season.
Visiting opponents shrug off any home advantage supposedly offered by a big, full and noisy stadium, either silencing the locals or driving them away early by treating the game as a pushover.
Anyone disagree with me so far? Then I dealt with our form, with special reference to the massacre of St Mary’s …
… Among a number of bizarre features of the 8-0 thrashing at St Mary’s in October, Sunderland started more brightly than the Saints, went behind only because of spectacularly volleyed own goal by Santiago Vergini and should, by common consent, have had a penalty at 2-0. Southampton would have been reduced to 10 men by the sending off of goalkeeper Fraser Forster for upending Steven Fletcher.
And smartly moving on to Saturday, with even some SAFC fans I know talking about another heavy home defeat …
So what can Advocaat produce in response to the slicker, pacier, more creative southerners whose players can score as well as defend?
… [he] seems to have only one card left up his sleeve, one he has so far been reluctant to play. Duncan Watmore, seen as a big prospect when signed two years ago as a raw 19-year-old, has been on fire for Sunderland’s Under-21s. Perhaps the choice is between a bold gamble on him and a natural reluctance to lose trust in experience, even if Connor Wickham and Jermain Defoe show only intermittent threat in a goal-shy attack, while Steven Fletcher gave up scoring in the Premier League months ago.
Supporters who clamour for the injection of young blood rarely see the whole picture as clearly as the manager. But if my own back-of-envelope calculations [figuratively; I actually did them on the page you see above] are right, Advocaat has nothing to lose by throwing Watmore into a desperate fray.
And now on to those gruesome calculations …
Looking at the relegation run-in and apportioning the points relegation-threatened clubs may reasonably be expected to pick up from remaining games, I envisage all seven candidates potentially falling short of the 40 points that are regarded as the safety level.
Sunderland players, officials and supporters may wish to avert their eyes. But on my admittedly gloomy projections, Sunderland will finish third bottom on 32, ahead of only QPR and Burnley. Worse, my prediction of a draw against Southampton on Saturday –which I regard as generous — would make no difference to the final positions if upgraded to a sneaky home win.
I did, however, have one parting slice of good news for my fellow Sunderland fans …
.., at more or less this stage of the last two great escapes, I was equally resigned to relegation. I eagerly await a third chance to eat my words.