by Susan Jardine
Eight matches left !

That is all that remains of the Premiership season and now it comes down to the survival of the fittest. While Queens Park Rangers and Reading look to be heading down to the Championship there seems to be a mini battle between four clubs to see who claims that unwanted third berth, and which three will dodge the trap door.

The clubs involved are Wigan, Aston Villa, Southampton and Sunderland. To make matters worse for the Black Cats Wigan, Southampton and Aston Villa have winning momentum, while Sunderland’s winless momentum is seeing them dragged ever closer to the trap door.

The task Sunderland face in terms of their run in to the close of the season could be likened to the Grand National course. Just as Aintree has feared obstacles in Beechers Brook, Valentine’s Brook, The Chair and just about any other fence, so Sunderland have to face their own fences in the form of Manchester United, Chelsea, Newcastle and Everton. All of that to try an ensure they do not get the elbow from the Premiership.

Sunderland’s predicament stretches back to mid January for their last win in the Premiership. Since then it has been a depressing run of results for the Black Cats. A gilt edged chance to drag themselves out of trouble was missed when they slumped to a 3-1 reverse at QPR, drew at home with Fulham, and then experienced a 1-1 draw with Norwich when the Canaries were down to ten men having had their goalkeeper sent off. Worse has since followed with the news that Steven Fletcher and Lee Cattermole are out for the rest of the season.

The loss of such key figures could not have come at a worse time and when you have a match against the champions elect due, together with one against the reigning European Champions, having your best team available can make the difference between points or nothing.

Sunderland still have the advantage that their fate is very much in their own hands but with Wigan and Aston Villa edging ever closer to them so the spectre of relegation looms large as well. If Sunderland do not get anything from their next four matches then they could find themselves in the bottom three.

So let’s see where Sunderland can pick up points by going through the fixture list. Firstly it is Manchester United and with the embarrassment of riches at the disposal of Sir Alex Ferguson it seems ludicrous to forsee anything other than a  United victory. They then go to Chelsea, and while fans fondly remember the 3-0 beating Sunderland delivered to the Pensioners at Stamford Bridge a couple of years ago the chances of it happening again don’t look good. Three goals are a possibility, the problem is that they could well be shipped in at the other end. Then comes the big one. The Tyne Wear derby at St James’s, and given the recent history the odds will favour Newcastle. Sunderland then meet Everton at home and there are certainly no guarantees of any points against the Merseysiders. All of which leads up to the clash with Aston Villa, where maybe a point is the best Sunderland can realistically hope for.

That leads to the final three matches of the season. Stoke City is the penultimate home fixture, with Southampton to follow. A proverbial six pointer against the Saints that may well decide the fates of both teams before Sunderland head to North London to face Tottenham on the final weekend of the season. My projection is a total of 4 points for Sunderland, and that may not be enough to keep the Black Cats in the premiership.