Many analyses of the Premiership, including my own, show around 3 mini-leagues; one at the top for the Champion’s League slots, a white underbelly of teams in the middle of the table who are not quite in the top echelon, and the bottom 6-8 teams fighting relegation. The lower 3rd is where Sunderland find themselves at the moment; after what has been called a “mixed” start to the season – 2 wins and 4 draws in 11 tell its own story of what might have been. OK, we are not the only ambitious team which is suffering – Everton are there also, but it still feels uncomfortable.
The next 4 games are:
Fulham (h) November 19
Wigan (h) November 26
Wolves (a) December 4
Blackburn (h) November 11
One factor in Sunderland’s favour at the moment is that the team is playing well. Anyone seeing the away performances at Arsenal, Bolton and Old Trafford was watching team that has a good attitude and that gives as good as it gets. At home against Villa the team had the self-belief to go for a deserved equaliser at the very end. The form players are Sessegnon and Larsson, but there are good performers all through the team, including our 3rd choice goalkeeper who played excellently at Old Trafford 2 weekends ago.
Given those 3 mini-leagues, the next 4-6 games will be absolutely crucial to the outcome of a transitional season. Wes Brown, ironically the goalscorer against Man. Utd. in our last game, believes that Sunderland need to “man up” in the upcoming games. "It's a chance to pick up points," Brown told BBC Newcastle.
"We know what we can do and we need to click now. We want to prove to everybody that we're a good team." Home form has been a concern for Sunderland this season, with only one win - against Stoke in September - so far.
However, Brown says expectation on players is not an issue, and that senior professionals have a role to play to help turn results at the Stadium of Light around. "It's not pressure, we just want to do well," said the 32-year-old, who has been an ever-present with 12 appearances since his summer move from Manchester United.
Last season we were looking to beat The Cottagers to improve our home form toward the end of the season, but we suffered a 0-3 reverse. A repeat of that result this year would be a disastrous start against this mini-league campaign against Fulham, Wigan, Wolves and Blackburn, with 3 of those at home. We need some back-to-back wins, but there are no easy games at this level. I saw that we have conceded fewer goals than Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham this season, but have only kept one clean sheet in the last 13 Premier League games at home.
A win to lift us away from the primordial slime of the bottom 6 would be great, but I would say that, wouldn't I? Must-win games are coming up fast, though...
©Lars J.S. Knutsen