I’m no different from anyone else who visits this site in that I don’t know whether or not we will go up at the end of the season. I tend to be optimistic, while some of our readers (at least one, anyway) are not, and I think the majority side with me.
Here are four comments (or extracts from comments) made in response to posts on our site, and a few numbers from me to chew over in respect of them. Have a think about them, then form your own opinion – and why not then share it with us, like the good folk below?
“We are sleepwalking our way to play offs at best under this manager” (and there’s a bit more more on the same lines).
I think Brian’s statement requires a bit of critical scrutiny. We have been very much in contention for one of the top two spots since the start of the season and we have made what look to be necessary responses to our circumstances in the transfer window. A decent striker has come in, which helps, given that our star has left and our great Wyke hope is misfiring, and along with two youthful loans we should be more creative up front. And who is complaining about Grant Leadbitter’s return, not to mention a new defender who seems to know his job? To me our January activity refutes the notion of sleepwalking.
“It is difficult to balance the nagging worry that we all have (that we might fall short this season) with the acceptance that the club has made astonishing progress in the last six months. Sometimes we have short memories!”
How I empathise with Tom, who has hit the nail firmly on the head. There were those in the summer who feared bankruptcy and/or a continued descent. It hasn’t happened, and even “playoffs at best”, which would have been satisfactory then, looks a tad pessimistic when you’re 9 points above 7th with a game in hand and a much better goal difference. And yet we are Sunderland, and we know not to get to carried away.
Geoff M (a month ago, after Charlton)
“A draw seemed fair in the end but we still need to finish sides off and we had the chances to do it.”
“Only lost 2 games…average 2 pts per game…and yet if we take 4 points from our 2 games in hand we will be in the auto promotion spot. We will at least be in the play offs…..so sorry but you can’t write us off so emphatically”
Not converting chances is important, and a failure to finish sides off seems to be an Achilles heel. Geoff is not the only one to be concerned. However, Neil’s comment “Only lost 2 games is worth considering in this context. Hold on to our 11 draws for the next few sentences because they are not necessarily something that should be considered in isolation.
Yes, we have drawn more games than Luton, Portmouth and Barnsley, the three teams above us. We’ve even drawn more than Charlton (almost twice as many as them), Posh and Donny, the three teams below us.
In fact, we’ve drawn more games than every other club in League One with the exception of Oxford United, who also have 11 points from 11 draws. That doesn’t sound too good, and Geoff is right to raise the issue.
But drawing is not the only way of failing to win, and failure to win deserves a moment of your time because when it comes to that we’re not as bad as you might think from all those draws.
Luton have failed to win 12 games while Barnsley, Portsmouth and Sunderland have failed to win 13. There’s not a lot of difference between the top four clubs when it comes to failure to win. But when it comes to gaining points from failure to win those 11 points put us streets ahead. Luton and Barnsley have gained 8, Portsmouth have gained 7.
Could it be that our league position – i.e. the difference in total points between us and other clubs – is just as much a product of our not having played as many games as it is of drawing 11? Neil thinks so, and I tend to agree.
Neil continues ” average 2 pts per game”
The stat average goals per game varies week by week. Is Neil right? And if he is, is an average of 2 good or bad? Such a question begs comparisons, so:
How do we compare to
Luton? Not well, they are averaging 2.1 and that’s promotion form.
Portsmouth? We’re better. They have dropped to 1.93 points per game.
Barnsley? You might think they’re doing better than us, but no. Their recent impressive form has got them up to 1.97, so not quite there yet. A win at Gillingham would get them to exactly 2.0
Charlton? At 1.74 they are way off the pace.
You’ve guessed it now, haven’t you? Neil is right. The team that can’t convert draws into wins but doesn’t let draws become losses is averaging 2.0 points per game, and only one club is doing better.
My worry is not that Sunderland are doing badly, because they aren’t, but that Luton and Barnsley are on fire. Their recent exceptional performances belie the whole-season stats I’ve quoted and leave them in prime position. You can see this in the BBC League One table, where the last five games are shown:
Sunderland are well behind the top two, but ahead of everyone else, and while we will at least match both clubs head-to-head this season we will need to step up a bit if we are to match them come game 46. Unless, of course, they lose just a bit of form.
So while I can’t see where Brian is coming from I understand Tom’s position only too well (for we are Sunderland…) and who doesn’t have just a little touch of apprehension, or maybe a big touch of apprehension (for we are Sunderland….) about other clubs not losing just a bit of form (for we are Sunderland….) as the season reaches crunch point
And yet, like Neil, I’m tending toward optimism.
Even though we are Sunderland, and we know not to get carried away
League One table ©BBC