A fourth win in six games for Gus Poyet’s revived Sunderland side on Saturday put the Black Cats within touching distance of a hallowed spot outside of the bottom three.
Sunderland (10/11 second favs to go down) have occupied the dropzone all season but an impressive 4-1 away win at the expense of relegation rivals Fulham (evens) meant that they are just one point from 17th-placed West Ham, who boosted their own chances of survival with a crucial 2-0 win at Cardiff (evens).
Ole Gunner Solskaer’s league debut failed to add the necessary spark in Wales as the Bluebirds saw the Hammers leapfrog them in the table.
With Crystal Palace (2/5 favs to go down), Norwich (3/1), Hull, West Brom and Swansea having all lost, the Premier League relegation battle has been blown wide open with all sides from tenth and below potentially involved.
Remarkably Sunderland, a club who have been rooted to the bottom of the table for most of the season, are only a couple of back-to-back wins from Hull in tenth, where the gap lies at just six points.
With Adam Johnson scoring his first professional hat-trick and finding the sort of form that convinced the club to shell out £12m on the former Man City winger, Johnson’s upsurge in performance summed up the feeling on Wearside that things are beginning to click, with Poyet’s ambitious plans finally starting to translate to the pitch.
The return of Wes Brown and John O’Shea, not to mention the composed footwork Vito Mannone in goal, has allowed Sunderland to successfully implement Poyet’s desired tactic of building from the back, while the fluid passing game he prefers suits on-loan midfielder Ki Sung Yueng to a tee.
It has meant that an impressive win at Everton on Boxing Day was soon followed by wins in both domestic cups leaving the Black Cats just 90 minutes of defending a lead at Old Trafford away from a League Cup Final.
They’ll be hoping to continue to use the momentum from their cup success to inspire a league revival, but while two home games on the trot seem winnable on paper, it’s worth noting that Sunderland’s home form against sides they should be looking to beat has proved their downfall more than once this season.
For while they boast home victories over Newcaslte, Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United this campaign, they’ve also conspired to lose against Aston Villa and Fulham, while they could only manage a 0-0 draw with Norwich.
So as Poyet’s gameplan has so far appeared much less effective in games where they are expected to force the issue, with Southampton, Stoke and Hull next up at the Stadium of Light, their ability to change this trend will be crucial to their survival.
At the same time, with the League Cup semi-final, FA Cup fourth round tie and a derby against Newcastle sandwiched inbetween those crucial games, positive results in these could again inspire the sort of league performance seen at Crave Cottage on Saturday.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing