The fate of North East relegation rivals Sunderland and Newcastle is poised to go to the wire, with a wafer-thin gap between the pair heading into the final week of the season.
But who is in the better position? Newcastle have an extra point, yet Sunderland have a game in hand and a superior goal difference.
Sunderland and Newcastle reporters Chris Young and Miles Starforth give their views on which of the duo have the edge, and whether fellow survival contenders Norwich can leapfrog either.
SAFC writer Chris Young:
It’s an old adage that points on the board are far better than games in hand.
Had Jermain Defoe failed to win and convert a last-gasp penalty at Stoke last weekend, I’d have gone along with that and said Newcastle were in pole position for survival.
But with only a point separating Sunderland from the Magpies, one extra game to bridge that gap and a superior goal difference (which has to be regarded as a pivotal factor) then the Black Cats have probably just got the edge.
It’s only ‘just’ though.
With such thin margins, one mistake, one moment of magic or one refereeing howler could change the whole complexion of the survival fight. You suspect there’ll be at least one fresh twist somewhere down the line.
The concern for Sunderland too is their habit of drawing games, particularly worrying when Newcastle have the most ‘winnable’ fixture of the sides down there with a trip to Aston Villa on Saturday.
I do think Sunderland need to win one of these two upcoming home encounters against Chelsea and Everton, and that’s no easy task, even if the pair have nothing tangible left to play for this season.
Sunderland have to make their game in hand count and do their utmost to be above Newcastle – even if it’s only on goal difference – heading into the last day.
No-one should discount Norwich, yet that defeat to Sunderland last month just felt like a psychological hammer blow to the Canaries.
Stoke-aside, Sunderland’s performances have been encouraging ever since the start of February, yet they’ve only tasted victory on two occasions.
They need another two wins now because you fear that in-form Newcastle will get them.
NUFC writer Miles Starforth:
Points in the bag or a game in hand?
Newcastle United are above Sunderland in the Premier League table.
Rafa Benitez’s side climbed above them and into 17th place after last weekend’s 1-0 win over Crystal Palace, themselves still not mathematically safe.
Yet the table’s columns show that Sunderland, a point behind Newcastle, have an important edge over their rivals.
They have a game in hand AND a superior goal difference, worth a point in itself.
That game in hand is a very winnable home fixture against Everton next Wednesday night.
Crucially, Sunderland have their destiny in their own hands.
United – who face relegated Aston Villa at Villa Park on Saturday – could win their final two matches this season and STILL go down.
Don’t write off Norwich City, either.
Alex Neil’s side have a result – or two – left in them.
So, for me, Sunderland are in the best position, though that’s not saying much.
Newcastle, Sunderland and Norwich are all in an awful predicament.
But the bookmakers feel Sunderland’s position is slightly less awful, and we know they don’t often get it wrong.
The club is 11/10 to stay up compared to 6/5 for Newcastle.
Norwich, by contrast, are priced at 4/1 to be in the Premier League next season.
But what the table, and its numbers and columns, doesn’t factor in is Rafa Benitez and the impact – on and off the field – he is having at St James’s Park.
Newcastle have taken eight points from a possible 12 since their shocking 3-1 defeat to Southampton a month ago.
They are attacking better and defending better, even on a bad day.
I’d rather be in Sunderland’s position – with a game in hand and better goal difference – but, equally, I’d rather have Benitez in charge.
It’s too close to call.