Can Sunderland salvage season in April once again?

Connor Wickham in his Sunderland days.
Connor Wickham in his Sunderland days.
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It will be a weekend of quietly keeping an eye on events around Europe for Sunderland fans.

With the squad already suffering from an injury pile-up, any more could potentially be terminal. Particularly if the players in question are Sunderland’s key men at both ends of the field.

The Black Cats have six games in April, a fixture pile-up that in previous seasons have worked to their benefit.

It has become a well-worn joke, Sunderland’s season starting in April.

There has been a sense of inevitability about the upsurge in form, rearranged games allowing a squad experienced in this situation to build momentum and haul in those wobbling above them.

Seb Larsson said earlier this year that teams above would be nervous about Sunderland, and he was absolutely right. This late season invincibility has fast been gaining mythical status.

So why does this year feel as if it may be different?

In previous years, the teams hovering above Sunderland, Newcastle and Norwich last year, have been wobbling.

This year, the wind is very much in the sails of Swansea, Crystal Palace and Leicester City.

It is probably the case, too, that this current squad is less equipped for a hectic schedule.

The current midfield has have seemed lethargic even after a two week break this year. Up front, poor form has given the attacking line a worn look.

Lamine Kone’s injury could not have come at a worse time, heaping pressure on John O’Shea again. Kone’s return for a pivotal week, for all his indifferent form this season, is vital.

Sunderland are left in the difficult position of desperately needing Lee Cattermole and Victor Anichebe to come back to lift the mood, but knowing the dangers of putting too much pressure and hope on their shoulders.

At the very least, their return should at least mean David Moyes has genuine options on his bench.

That has been a chronic issue all season and in those tight, late season games where neither side goes for broke in the early stages.

It will be crucial if managed correctly.

The fixture list offers hope, too. Sunderland face so many teams around them that will hopefully make for the edgy games that are stomach churning to watch but can be settled by an instinctive finisher like Jermain Defoe.

Connor Wickham’s superb run in 2014 shows the benefits of a run of games in a short time if you can get your striker on form and confident.

Will spring be sprung on Wearside again?

The key, perhaps, is in making sure that by the time Sunderland face Middlesbrough and Bournemouth at the end of April, they remain in relative proximity to Swansea.

It is a stretch but beat Swansea and win their game in hand against Boro, and Clement’s side will be within just a point.

The only truly high stakes game Sunderland have faced against a direct rival this calendar year was the Crystal Palace game, which they managed far more impressively than their opponents, who froze under the pressure.

Moyes needs to find a way to get confidence and momentum in his attackers to replicate that.

So much, perhaps too much, depends on how and when Victor Anichebe returns.