Defeat in the next three crucial games could see Sunderland cut adrift at the bottom of the Sky Bet Championship and help decide the Black Cats’ fate. Positive results however, could see Chris Coleman’s side gain enough momentum and confidence to get themselves out of danger and avoid successive relegations.
Last weekend at Bristol City, Sunderland trailed 3-0 at one point; however, a spirited fightback led to a 3-3 draw. The second-half performance at Ashton Gate must be built upon for confidence to grow and give them a chance to survive, beginning against Brentford at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.
Sunderland’s Fate Sealed in Next Three Games?
Brentford – Home – February 17th
Sunderland’s home form will be crucial for the remainder of the season if relegation is to be avoided. However, home form is something that they have struggled with badly in recent times. Just two wins on Wearside since December 2016 proves this. If good home form can be achieved then it will go along way to securing a place in the Championship next season.
The recovery against Bristol City last weekend will have given the players, Chris Coleman and fans some believe that there is some fight in the players; fight which has been lacking. The new players that Coleman brought in during January will be beginning to settle now and the return to form of some players, be it only 45 minutes of last weekend’s fight back, will be welcomed. Also, the belief that a result like that can bring could prove invaluable. However, a defeat and Sunderland will be back to square one once again.
Aiden McGeady is in contention to start the game after impressing Chris Coleman when he came on as a sub against Bristol City. McGeady showed he can turn a game when he came on as a substitute and his challenge now will be to do it from the first whistle if selected. Jonny Williams and Adam Mathews could return from injury. Paddy McNair is nearing full fitness but this game could come too soon.
This game could also be too soon for defender Lamine Koné. He has trained just once this week and will have to wait until next week to return. However, winger Callum McManaman has returned to training and may be included in the squad. Duncan Watmore, Robin Ruiter, Marc Wilson and Darron Gibson will not feature due to injury.
After switching to 4-4-2 last weekend, the team looked more comfortable as they produced their three-goal comeback. Chris Coleman has kept faith recently with a 5-3-2 formation; however, he may be tempted to change it for this game.
Brentford will be without winger Sergi Canos through suspension and long-term absentee Rico Henry. Bees boss Dean Smith made several changes last week for the 1-1 draw with Preston as he attempted to get their play-off hopes back on track. More changes could be made this week.
Sunderland have had a very tough season and any kind of good form has been extremely hard to come by. They have managed just two home wins this season and this must improve. Four points from the last five games has left the club second bottom of the table. A win here really is a must.
Brentford had high hopes of achieving the playoffs this season but just one point from a possible nine has seen them drop to 10th, eight points off the play-off places. Brentford will, therefore, be wanting to take maximum points away from the Stadium of Light.
Bolton – Away – 20th February
If all goes well against Brentford, Chris Coleman could have one or two extra players to pick from as he looks to improve the Black Cats’away form. If,as expected,Paddy McNair and Lamine Koné miss the Brentford game, they could be available for this match.
When the two teams met earlier in the season, the 3-3 draw saw the end of Simon Grayson’s time as Sunderland manager. The game also saw Sunderland equal the English record of 19 home games without a victory.
The point kept Sunderland off the bottom of the table and kept Bolton bottom. At the time of writing, Sunderland are still in the same position while Bolton found some form and have got themselves out of the relegation places. However, one win in six has Wanderers looking over their shoulders near the foot of the table once again.
Even if their form overall has dipped of late, Bolton have not been beaten at home since the middle of December. It has been this home form which has given them hope of survival.
Since defeating Nottingham Forest in the final game of 2017, Sunderland have played four away games in the league and FA Cup, have failed to win and have conceded 12 goals. They will be hoping to put an end to this disappointing form.
Middlesbrough – Home – 24th February
The Wear-Tees Derby always threatens to be a feisty affair. Whatever happens in the games prior to this, form can go out of the window. However, Middlesbrough have had the better of the matches of late, winning the last five encounters. The last time the Sunderland were victorious at home against Boro was September 2008 when they ran out 2-0 winners.
Like Sunderland, Middlesbrough have changed managers this season. Somewhat surprisingly,Garry Monk, appointed last summer was sacked after an away victory at Sheffield Wednesday left them just three points away from the play-off places. Former Stoke City and West Brom boss Tony Pulis replaced him and at present, they are four points off the play-off positions.
Form and team news
Middlesbrough have been inconsistent of late, winning two and losing three of their last six games. With tough games against promotion chasing Cardiff City and relegation fighting Hull City before this game, that inconsistent run could still be going on. Boro’s away from could cause for concern on Wearside, having won three of their last four away games.
Boro could have striker Rudy Gestede back in first-team action by this game after a back problem. Tony Pulis’s only other concern is defender Fabio who has been suffering from a thigh injury. Apart from their long-term absentees, Sunderland boss Chris Coleman will have everything crossed no new injuries are picked up against Brentford and Bolton.
The Last Word
Undoubtedly these three games and those to played are huge in the history of Sunderland Football Club. A good run of form will see them rise up the table to safety. If they continue their current form however, then a relegation to League One for only the second time in their history could happen.
There is huge pressure on Chris Coleman and his team as the games come and go. Both Coleman and his players are saying all the right things. Now is the time for those players to back up their words with huge performances on the pitch for these three games and for the rest of the season.
Sunderland supporters have been in this position too many times to mention and it never gets easier. The club have a recent history of pulling off great escapes. Fans have everything crossed that Chris Coleman can mastermind another.