Having seen their manager sacked, star player Adam Johnson arrested and a heavy 4-0 defeat at home to struggling Aston Villa, it could be said that March was a nightmare month for the Black Cats fans. However with the appointment of veteran Dick Advocaat, can the Dutchman steady the Sunderland ship and avoid the drop?
The season so far (at least under Gus Poyet), Sunderland have always looked defensively leaky, with them having the joint second worst goal difference in the league.
Their tendency to concede heavy defeats obviously contributes to their poor goal difference, an example being the shocking 8-0 capitulation at St Mary’s.
Poyet’s over-reliance on experience at the back in the form of Wes Brown and John O’Shea has proved costly at times – with both former Manchester United defenders making a number of crucial mistakes throughout Sunderland’s torrid campaign.
Players they have brought in such as Will Buckley from Brighton and Hove Albion, and Jack Rodwell from Manchester City, however both players have failed to really shine, with 20 appearances and a miserly three goals between them.
Sunderland’s escape from a return to the Championship last season was little short of a miracle, and given what we have seen this season, it’s clear that if Sunderland are going to progress next season (if they stay up), they need to spend, and they need to spend smart.
But what can Dick Advocaat do this season to avoid relegation? Currently, Sunderland are hanging precariously over the three last places in 17th, with only a point between them and Burnley.
Burnley, buoyed by their victory over champions Manchester City, face Tottenham at home, which is a hard but winnable game for Sean Dyche’s side, whereas Sunderland face Newcastle at home, which is also a winnable game against a Toon side that have struggled to find consistency this season.
Advocaat first and foremost needs to sure up the shaky defence and maybe experiment with the centre-back pairing by introducing Vergini or on-loan Coates, as while experience is beneficial to a team, a balance is certainly needed and there’s no reason why other defenders shouldn’t be given a chance.
Regarding the goals situation, Sunderland did do one smart bit of business, in the deal involving the swap of Jermain Defoe and Jozy Altidore, the former having scored over 120 goals in the Premier League, and the latter mustering just two.
Defoe is a proven goalscorer, and if he hits form now in the business end of the season, his goals would do wonders to Sunderland’ s survival hopes.
Sunderland do have quality in the midfield as well, Larsson, Alvarez, and Jordi Gomez are all arguably Premier League pedigree, as is Jack Rodwell, proven by the £10 million price tag which Sunderland bought him for.
An unspoken hero of Sunderland’s last Premier League campaign is Lee Cattermole (who often receives criticism for his tenacious style of play), and the players were said to have been rallied chiefly by him, as he helped them drag themselves into the new Premier League season.
Advocaat needs to find a formation to accommodate such players which Poyet failed to do, whilst also being able to harness that invigorating effect that Cattermole is said to have over his team-mates.
At this point in time however, it increasingly looks like Sunderland are going to need to start picking up serious points if they want guaranteed football in the top flight of English football next season.