The relegation battle is reaching its culmination. This weekend Middlesbrough faced Manchester United, Liverpool hosted Newcastle and Sunderland took on Everton, with Hull still to play Aston Villa.
Sunderland entertained Everton at the Stadium of Light and succumbed to a 2-0 defeat and put more pressure on themselves to reach the magical 40 points total. The Black Cats have now only won 1 of their last 10 games and look have lost the vigour Ricky Sbragia gave them when he was appointed Roy Keane’s successor. His side seemed flat and nervous whilst Everton took the game to the Mackems, looking to cement 5th place and Europa League football next season.
Goals from Steven Pienaar and Marouane Fellaini gave Everton the victory, which means Sunderland need, for me, 5 points in the final three fixtures to make sure of survival. Two away games against Bolton and Portsmouth respectively are must win fixtures, as the final game of the season is a match up with Chelsea.
Against Everton, Sunderland did have their chances, most notably from Danny Collins, whose header and Steed Malbranque’s cross/shot, were both tipped over the bar by Tim Howard. Anyhow, this was as good as it got for the Mackems as Everton asserted their physical prowess, technical superiority and tactical command over a lackluster Sunderland side.
Ricky Sbragia must count himself lucky that his team put together an admirable run of form when he first took over the reigns full time. After an excellent performance against Manchester United despite the 1-0 defeat were followed by 4-0 and 4-1 victories over West Brom and Hull, respectively.
Whether Sunderland can reach these heights in the forthcoming games remains to be seen, but the players Sbragia has at his disposal do posses enough quality to keep the Mackems in the Premier League. In Kenwyne Jones and Djibril Cisse, they have two forwards that are more than capable of scoring the goals to keep them up.
The physical presence of Jones is enough to trouble the most solid of defences, coupled with Cisse’s pace, a match can truly be made in the Northeast. Aside from the form both have showed earlier this season, where in parts, both have been woeful in front of goal. They have 18 goals between them, which is not good enough. But three solid showings and a few goals between them, then all would be forgiven.
Quality is also prevalent throughout the side, with the aforementioned Malbranque, Tal Ben-Haim, Anton Ferdinand not to forget the British record signing for a goalkeeper, Craig Gordon. The talent is there and one final push is all that is needed.
I would expect a minimum of 3 points from the final games, although this is not a total that would surpass the magical 40 point mark, I feel it would be enough given the form of the teams around them. Sunderland are not out of the frame just yet, and a miraculous turn of form from all those around them would be needed to see the Wearsiders relegated. Rest on these laurels, and thus must fight to ensure survival is in their own hands.