Let’s see if the Sunderland ‘will we survive?’ poll can perk up a little more from our viewpoint. The Yes and Maybe votes, though still lagging well behind, are higher than at any time since poll was launched but always bear there have been many No camp followers among fans of other drop zone clubs) …
And now for a quick expansion of the poll to find out who Salut! Sunderland readers (who, don’t forget, may well again include supporters of the other six clubs) think will go down.
After all the gloom that has dominated these pages for months – some would say years, with only heartstopping great escapes and Wembley to brighten the spirits – it is perhaps inevitable that one win should rekindle hope for Sunderland.
It was only our sixth of the season in the Premier. We have scored just 28 goals. In each case only bottom-placed Burnley have done worse over the season (five wins, 26 goals), though it remains true that because of all our draws, the number of games lost – 13 – would be top 11 form if no other criteria applied.
I said I looked forward to eating my words after my pre-Southampton back-of-envelope (OK, scribble-on-newspaper) calculations brought me up with a jolt. I couldn’t see better than two draws from the remaining five games, so 32 points.
Beating Southampton, I am delighted to say, makes a mockery of that prediction.
Of my other estimates, Leicester v Newcastle and Liverpool v QPR produced the home wins I expected, while Burnley failed to get the draw I fancied at West Ham, likewise Everton at Villa.
So even without knowing how Hull do tonight – I have boldly gone for an Arsenal away win, and we need one – we are in a much better position that I thought likely and have given ourselves a fighting chance of survival.
But Jeremy Robson, on these pages, hit the nail squarely on the head: “The points [on Saturday] have kept us in the hunt and nothing more. Had we lost, then we would have been as good as down.”
That was the measure of the crisis we had dug ourselves into.
Like me, Jeremy remembered a past must-win home game against Southampton. It was back in 1997 and I had been “persuaded” by my wife that we should go out for a Thai meal. There were rip-off phone lines in those days that you rang for match updates and I did my little sneak-away-to-check routine a couple of times. Egil Ostenstadt’s winner for the Saints, as Jeremy recalls, was “really one of the final nails in our relegation coffin”.
A week and a bit later, I was up at Roker Park for the 3-0 win in the last league game seen at the old ground but results elsewhere left us with a lot to do on the final match at Wimbledon and that proved beyond us.
This time we have beaten Southampton – and Everton are again the next opponents, though at Goodison.
Repeating last season’s 1-0 win is a tall order; that was a rare good result for Sunderland at Everton and I am still not sure exactly how we managed to hang on to the lead despite playing for most of the game against 10 men.
Lose, and even beating Leicester may not be enough. Or can we still hope to defy logic and claw something out of the final games at Arsenal and Chelsea? We knew at the start of the season we would not wish to go to Chelsea for the final game needing a point or three. We didn’t know we’d enter the final week with a game in hand only for it to be at the Emirates.
Jamie Redknapp suggested in his Mail column today that Sunderland should not write off their own chances: “Of course it was Sunderland who ended Mourinho’s incredible home record last season and with the atmosphere at the ground one of celebration rather than desperation, they might just be able to sneak something.”
I fear 4-0 is a good deal more likely. Let’s just pin our hopes on having done enough before then, with whatever assistance from the other strugglers, to save our season.
And let me end on a note of congratulation to Chelsea. They are not the Premier’s most lovable club and Jose Mourinho is hardly its most engaging character (I liked the Arsene Wenger quote, translated in France as “one of the most beautiful qualities for a manager is respect for others; he [Mourinho] has some progress to make in this regard”).
What is true, however, is that the Blues have been the best team in the Premier by a country mile and the title is deserved. It is not their fault that the real drama is at the other end of the table.