The Relegation Rumble: Sunderland
Sunderland rose to the Premier League two seasons ago with Roy Keane’s magnetism, and it was the same presence that kept them afloat last season. The reform movement lost steam when Keane left, and Sunderland have been rudderless since Ricky Sbragia transcended the interim label. The club is in fourteenth place, but just three points above the drop zone.
Form: Sunderland have nine points from their last eight matches, winning two and drawing another three. The two wins came at home against Stoke and Fulham, which isn’t so impressive, but the type of wins they need to stay up. Though, the eight game sample sounds better than it should, because Sunderland are winless in their last five.
Schedule: Sunderland’s schedule is not hospitable. Three out of their four home matches are against Manchester United, Everton and Chelsea, squelching opportunities to shoot for a home win. They may get a reprieve if the final Chelsea match is a dead rubber, but even a deflated Chelsea team could compete. The other home tie is against Hull City. Sunderland also travel to West Ham, West Brom, Bolton and Portsmouth.
Injuries: Sunderland are not really beset with crucial injuries, with Teemu Tainio being the most significant loss. Amazingly, Djibril Cisse has not broken his leg, but there’s still time. Their talented players are healthy. They just need to play well.
Prognosis: Sunderland have not beaten a noteworthy team all season, going winless against the top eight. Besides the occasional flash of brilliance, they don’t create and they struggle to score, managing just 29 in 30 matches. Sunderland need to win two to three of the next eight games to ensure their safety. It doesn’t look likely. If Newcastle catches some luck, Sunderland may be relegated instead.