Five games Sunderland CAN win to seal survival
David Moyes sees five wins as crucial to giving his Sunderland side a chance of beating the drop.
It is a tall order, the Black Cats have won just five so far this season, and are missing two crucial components in those wins with Duncan Watmore and Victor Anichebe out injured.
Sunderland have failed to score in four of their last five games, that three-minute burst at Crystal Palace seeming more like a dream with every passing game.
The fixture list offers opportunities, but with four of the current top six still to play, the margin for error is worryingly small and ever narrowing.
There is hope from the excellent run in November and December, winning three out of four games when hope was at a premium.
Here, we plot their path to five wins and safety.
v Burnley (Home, March 18)
Weaknesses to target: This is not a fixture that Sunderland have handled well this season but they can take heart from the first leg of the FA Cup third round clash.
Jason Denayer excelled in a centre-half role and despite ten minutes of pressure from the visitors at the end of the game, the Black Cats were comfortable in defence.
They were unable to offer much incision at the other end, Jermain Defoe quiet after a week of intense speculation regarding his future.
Andre Gray’s pace will bolster the Clarets but their away form is poor and that Black Cats have put away sides at the bottom on home turf this season.
To be wary of: It would be fairly typical if Robbie Brady, who Sunderland were keen to sign in January, showed his considerable talent and hurt the Black Cats survival hopes.
Burnley play with four in midfield but Jeff Hendrick’s energy more than compensates and he will have to be well matched by Didier Ndong.
The Gabon man has been inconsistent but is the Black Cats best hope of getting a platform in midfield at the Stadium of Light.
v Watford (Away, April 1)
Weaknesses to target: The goals dried up for Odion Ighalo and his departure leaves Watford’s 3-5-2 a little light on speed in the final third.
M’Biaye Niang is quick but still finding his feet, and Walter Mazzarri has felt forced to go to a back four recently.
Jose Holebas and Daryl Janmaat at full-back in a 4-3-3 leave plenty of space in behind to attack, and while he was superb at the end of last season for Sunderland, Younes Kaboul and Miguel Britos have not always convinced at centre-half.
Injuries to Nordin Ambrabat and Roberto Pereyra leave them missing thrust, vision and pace.
To be wary of: Troy Deeney is back to something near his best and can bully a Sunderland defence that hasn’t always stood up to sustained pressure this season.
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In midfield, Etienne Capoue can control games if given the space.
v Leicester City (A, April 4)
Weaknesses to target: The heart of defence suddenly looks like a major weakness, and Jermain Defoe will surely back himself with Huth and Morgan ailing.
Leicester’s midfield have been cut adrift from their two strikers for most of the season and if he is fit again, that could give Jan Kirchhoff space to control proceedings without a great deal of pressure.
If the Foxes are still struggling then the weight of expectation on the home team could also work in Sunderland’s favour.
To be wary of: A new manager bounce, clearly. Demarai Gray is surely set for a long spell in the team and his pace and trickery will hurt a fairly one-paced Black Cats side.
v Bournemouth (H, April 29)
Weaknesses to target: As Tony Pulis said at the weekend, the Cherries leave acres of pace behind their defence.
Whether Sunderland have the speed to exploit it is another matter, Callum Wilson’s injury also leaves them without a great deal of firepower up front.
Momentum has deserted them of late and if it stays that way this will be a big opportunity.
To be wary of: They may be lacking strikers but can score from all over the pitch.
The Black Cats have not always dealt with wide players well and so Ryan Fraser poses a big threat.
Harry Arter and Jack Wilshere are also technically superior in midfield and can control the contest.
v Hull City (A, May 6)
Weaknesses to target: There is not a particularly deep squad at the KCOM Stadium and their injury problems even manage to rival Sunderland’s.
Their last XI featured Shaun Maloney and Dieumerci Mbokani, players probably no longer of Premier League vintage.
There will be an element of make do and mend to the team Silva sends out and hopefully Kirchhoff and Cattermole will be back by this point to add some stability for the Black Cats.
To be wary of: Marco Silva’s most impressive feat so far is tighten his side up at the back and turn them into a very efficient counter-attacking force.
They are now tough to beat at home and will not roll over.