The Boxing Day victory over EPL champion Manchester City aside, Sunderland have enjoyed most success this season against teams involved in the relegation fight. That should not change over the final 13 games of the season.
Of Sunderland’s 29 points gained in the 25 EPL games played, 22 have been gained against teams in the bottom half of the table.
With seven of Sunderland’s remaining 13 games against teams alongside them in the lower half of the EPL standings, they should have more than enough opportunities to get over the all-important 40-point barrier—which so often signifies safety from relegation.
Mid-table at present, Sunderland have a role to play in both the European qualification battle at the top end of the EPL table, and the relegation fight too. Saving themselves from being involved in the latter has to be the priority—they sit in 12th place, eight points and six places above Wigan in the drop zone—before thinking about looking upwards to place in the top half of the table.
There is, of course, the opportunity for some shock results orchestrated by manager Martin O’Neill, perhaps even starting on Saturday when Arsenal visit the Stadium of Light.
But it is the forthcoming home games against Fulham, Norwich City, Stoke City and Southampton that will determine whether Sunderland can break into the Top 10. The quartet of fixtures are one Sunderland should be winning if they are to become a serious force—and therefore they have to be branded the biggest.
Twelve points from those four home games would take Sunderland past the 40-point mark and would also ensure two doubles are completed having already won on the road at both Fulham and Southampton in the reverse fixtures.
There are other home games where points can be collected when Manchester United and Everton head to the northeast—and this weekend’s visit of Arsenal—but they would be bonus points.
By far the biggest game of the remaining 13 in stature is the northeast derby at Newcastle United on April 13 when the bragging rights to be top dog in the region could be secured. Of all the games still to play, that is the one that supporters would put the greatest significance in.
On the road, there are other eminently-winnable games at West Brom, Queens Park Rangers and Aston Villa as well as games that could affect the Champions League qualification situation. Sunderland still has to visit Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea and head to White Hart Lane to take on Tottenham on the final day of the season.