Sunderland face of a whirlwind of games that will play a key part in deciding which division we play in come August.
It may not even be an exaggeration to suggest the season could well depend on the outcome of the visits to West Ham and Southampton, this Saturday and next, with Palace at home on Tuesday night.
Of course, SAFC could lose all three and still stay up. That is the mathematical fact. But how much stronger our cause will seem in we can pick up five, six or even nine points from against tough but hardly world-beating opposition.
The fillip of four points from the run of three games many expected us to lose – the two Manchesters and Liverpool – gives Big Sam a huge boost as he prepares his return to Upton Park. The three games to come are followed by Everton and home and Newcastle away; get it right and we could be in a decent position of safety come the end of March.
And coming back to the present, how sweet it would feel, for Sam as well as for us, is he made his Upton Park detractors eat their words. Don’t forget how David Blackmore, from the Blowing Bubbles fan site, put it in his highly readable “Who are You?” interview: the Ham, under Slaven Bilic, are playing “with the style, passion and entertainment that we were crying out for during the Allardyce era”.
I mentioned this quote in my match preview for ESPN FC and repeated my warning that for all Dimitri Payet’s brilliance, he is not the sole threat to Sunderland on Saturday.
And this eight-day spell of games pits us against teams that all beat us in the equivalent fixtures of last season. P3 W0 D0 L3 F1 A13 in case you wanted reminding.
This is how I summed it up at ESPN:
Ominously, each of the corresponding fixtures last season ended in defeat for Sunderland. There was no shame in losing 1-0 to West Ham in the first game of Dick Advocaat’s brief stint as manager. But the other fixtures are remembered for two of Sunderland’s worst performances of a dismal season, a 4-1 home defeat to Palace that had fans emptying the stands and a horrendous 8-0 drubbing at Southampton.
Thanks to Allardyce’s wise moves in the transfer window, the squad now seems significantly stronger and has a mixture of experience and quality that might just be enough to secure a 10th successive season in the top flight.
The club’s past three games have brought four points, at least three more than many expected [considering the opposition]. Five or more from the three to come would encourage even the gloomiest of supporters to see survival as a realistic ambition.