There have been many gruelling days for Sam Allardyce in just six months as Sunderland boss, but, almost four weeks on, one result still haunts him.
“We pummelled West Brom. I still haven’t got over that,” says Allardyce forlornly as he reflects on that one-sided stalemate against the Baggies when Sunderland produced 22 efforts on goal.
As time has gone on I have lost that little bit of optimism because we haven’t achieved as many wins as we should have doneSam Allardyce
“That was the hardest weekend for me to take – especially because Norwich beat Newcastle in the last minute. That added more depression for me. I couldn’t understand how we hadn’t won by three or four.”
What particularly grates on Allardyce – and Sunderland’s players and supporters for that matter – is what a difference those extra two points would have made to the Black Cats’ total.
When such paper-thin margins separate Sunderland from their relegation rivals, the failure to register three points from the jaws of victory against West Brom, Southampton, Newcastle, particularly, could be what eventually relegates Allardyce’s side if the next fortnight or so goes against them.
Allardyce believes Sunderland should now be in the position of requiring just one win from the final four games, rather than realistically requiring at least two.
Their failure to be on the verge of safety has gnawed away at Allardyce’s confidence that Sunderland will be successful in the survival battle and leaves him feeling still edgy over their fate.
“From the turn of the year, I have been very optimistic, but, as time has gone on, I have lost that little bit of optimism because we haven’t achieved as many wins as we should have done,” he said.
“I’m convinced that – at a very conservative estimate, based on how we have performed since the turn of the year – we should be one win from safety now.
“But we’re not. We might need three wins, or certainly two and a draw.
“We have let ourselves down from that point of view, but we have entertained, we have tried, we have given our best, and the fans have appreciated that and have turned out home and away – in numbers that have increased, rather than diminished, by the way.
“The fans have played their part in trying to help us get out of trouble, and I must thank them for that.”
Allardyce has at least solved Sunderland’s clean sheet issue, with three shut-outs in the last four games.
Ironically, it is the other end of the pitch which has consumed Allardyce’s thoughts this week after last Sunday’s goalless draw against Arsenal was the third successive home game without Sunderland finding a breakthrough.
But, for tomorrow’s trip to Stoke City, Allardyce hopes Sunderland can rediscover the scoring touch from their last away outing when the 3-0 win at Norwich kept the club’s survival hopes alive. “I have to admit it’s a concern that we’ve gone three games without a goal at home,” he added.
“After the West Brom game, it was Leicester and, while I don’t like naming names, it was the Jack (Rodwell) miss. If it wasn’t for that miss, Spurs would still be fighting Leicester now for the title.
“And again against Arsenal, even though we had to defend and defend deep for long periods because of their superb possession game, I would say that we edged the better chances than they did and just, unfortunately, didn’t manage to convert one.
“Maybe away from home, because we won 3-0 at Norwich, it will ease the lads in front of goal when they get the chance to put it in the back of the net – let’s hope that’s the case tomorrow.
“But certainly we are not short on confidence or performance levels at this moment in time, it’s just that we should have got so many more victories.”