We know, as I write, that the answer to the first question below is “not yet”. But this special article, in collaboration with Ryan James, may gives us all a lift ahead of tonight and Sunday’s battles. It’s for Sunderland fans everywhere, heading and hoping to Arsenal, or just planning how to keep tabs – and all in the knowledge this is one of several lifelines left open, one of them in our own hands on Sunday, the other beyond our control ….
Have Sunderland pulled off the great escape?
In one of the craziest and most exciting ends to a Premier League season in recent history, Sunderland may have pulled themselves away from danger by the skin of their teeth from what was considered a perilous position before Dick Advocaat came in.
Recording just one victory in the 12 fixtures prior to the Dutchman’s arrival ultimately signalled the end of Gus Poyet’s time as manager, but, more importantly, left the Black Cats in dire straits with a lack of confidence, spirit and points leaving the time firmly in the relegation zone.
However, Advocaat has transformed the club’s fortunes by winning three of the six games he has been in charge in, which included completing the double against Newcastle which arguably provided the lift that everyone at the Stadium of Light needed.
They have ultimately written their own headlines in recent weeks following shock wins against Southampton and Everton, and may have put themselves to prove the naysayers who had written Sunderland off as dead and buried to join Queens Park Rangers and Burnley were wrong. Victory in both games may have beyond even the most ardent of Sunderland fans’ wildest dreams, but while there is still plenty of work still to be done beyond anyone can breathe a sigh of relief, creating a two-point gap to Hull has created much-needed breathing space that could prove crucial.
Many fans may be aggrieved at the fact that Sunderland find themselves in the same predicament for the second consecutive season [even worse, it’s the third! – Ed], considering that a team with quality in many areas should be nowhere near the relegation zone.
Any feeling of despondency and resignation has been lifted by a manager who has reignited the fighting spirit and passion into the team – qualities that every Sunderland fan asks from the team on a weekly basis, come win, draw or lose. The Black Cats may have received two major slices of good fortune for the two goals they scored at Goodison Park, but it was ultimately the performance and willingness to fight for the cause that won through and secured three hugely important points. Any talk of the great escape may have to be put on hold, particularly with the difficulty of opponents still to face, but Sunderland have put themselves in a wonderful position to preserve their Premier League status – something that was never thought imaginable after the capitulation against Aston Villa on Wearside.
Survive in style
Having a game in hand over everyone else fighting for their lives would normally be valued as a wonderful incentive to make the most of, but given that this extra fixture is an away trip to Arsenal before marching across London to face title winners Chelsea just three days later in the final game of the season, it represents the worst fixture at the worst possible time.
Taking anything away from either fixture (another shock victory at Stamford Bridge perhaps?) would be valued as a major achievement for Sunderland, and could well see them survive in true style against the very best that the Premier League has to offer. Hull may face their own daunting end-of-season fixture against a Manchester United side fighting to prevent a potentially tricky Champions League play-off, but Sunderland have to ensure they focus on themselves and, fingers crossed, secure enough points to preserve their top flight status.