Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Football: Two out of Three Have Ability to Avoid Drop; Cats Strikers Must Hit Form

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Football: Two out of Three Have Ability to Avoid Drop; Cats Strikers Must Hit Form

Article excerpt

Byline: Stuart Rayner

SUNDERLAND should have just about enough to avoid relegation this season, but the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better.

April 18 threatens to be a pivotal day in the Black Cats' campaign - the day relegation rivals Hull City are in town.

By then, Sunderland could be uncomfortably close to a relegation zone they thought they had seen the last of a few weeks ago.

After a roaring first half of the season, the Tigers have been somewhat tamed.

Rarely does a season go by without a team free-falling after Christmas, and Hull have the look of this year's candidates. They have won one league game since December 6, amid whispers that the departed Marlon King was not the only member of his dressing room Phil Brown had "lost".

So it is vitally important that when they come up against such teams, Sunderland make hay. Hull's visit is quickly followed by a trip to West Bromwich Albion, who are starting to be cut adrift at the bottom of the table.

The Black Cats also played the pair in consecutive weeks in December. The back-toback 4-0 and 4-1 victories effectively earned Ricky Sbragia the manager's job full-time and remain two of the highlights of his tenure.

A similarly emphatic six points this time around will be a massive step towards Sunderland securing their Premier League status for another season. It is crucial the Wearsiders make the most of them, because the matches either side look decidedly tricky.

Added to factors such as form, injuries and home advantage comes the desperation of the opposition and the pressure they are under.

Teams staring relegation in the face are capable of remarkable end-of-season feats - witness Fulham's out-of-the-blue away form this time late last season - and the mental pressure of challenging for titles or European qualification can prove far harder to overcome than the 11 men over the halfway line at kick-off.

But you would have to be a real optimist to see much points-gathering potential in Sunderland's other six remaining games.

The Black Cats' next two opponents are West Ham United away and Manchester United at home. …

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