Assessing Sunderland's relegation run-in - Will the Black Cats avoid the drop yet again?

VAVEL take a look at the eight remaining games for Sunderland in the Premier League and predict the outcome of each match - but will Sam Allardyce's men find the points they need to avoid the drop?

Assessing Sunderland's relegation run-in - Will the Black Cats avoid the drop yet again?
Dick Advocaat guided the club to safety last season, with a 0-0 draw in their penultimate match ensuring Premier League status. (Photo: Mirror)

It is certainly squeaky bum time for the clubs at the bottom of the Barclays Premier League - and Sunderland are one of the clubs that have been dragged into the mire once again. 

With eight games remaining, there are two tickets remaining to the 2016/17 Championship season with Aston Villa looking all but doomed. Sunderland, Newcastle and Norwich are the three main contenders to fill these two spots, although Crystal Palace are not out of the woods after enduring a truly shocking 2016 where they have yet to win a single league game.

Sunderland currently occupy 18th position, one place and one point above rivals Newcastle who they drew 1-1 with a week ago. Norwich are the side sat in 17th, two points ahead of Sunderland and three ahead of Newcastle respectively, although the two north-east sides have a game in hand over Alex Neil's men.

West Bromwich Albion (H) - April 2

Sunderland's next match is against 11th placed West Brom, and is one that will no doubt be seen as a must win for the club, especially after Sam Allardyce told the Sunderland Echo that he believes his side must win "four out of the last eight."

The Baggies have only lost two of their last six matches, and both of these defeats came against Sunderland's relegation rivals Newcastle and Norwich, who both recorded 1-0 wins over Pulis' side. It could be said that with West Brom safe and sound on 39 points, they may not be as motivated to get results as a Sunderland side that desperately need the win on home soil.

Saido Berahino won the match with a controversial goal. (Photo: Mirror)
Saido Berahino won the reverse fixture with a controversial goal. (Photo: Mirror)

It won't be an easy game however, as West Brom are a well drilled side that know how to grind results away from home, proven by their record of only 5 losses on the road this season from their 14 away matches. If Sunderland are to stay up this is a game that simply must be won, and I believe they will do so, although it will likely be a very close game.

Prediction: Sunderland win

Leicester City (H) - April 10

Another home match follows West Brom, with table toppers Leicester the next side to visit the Stadium of Light. The Foxes have surpassed all expectations in some style this season, with Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez leading their title charge that will go down as the most famous title win in Premier League history if they are successful.

The reverse of this fixture was undoubtedly one to forget for Sunderland, as they were ripped apart in a 4-2 defeat that could and should have been more. One man that performed horrifically in this defeat, but could be crucial to his side's chances this time around is Patrick van Aanholt.

Dick Advocaat's first game of the 2015/16 season set the tone for the remainder of his reign. (Photo: Chronicle)
Dick Advocaat's first game of the 2015/16 season set the tone for the remainder of his reign. (Photo: Chronicle)

The Dutch left-back endured a torrid start to the season, but has since come on leaps and bounds and is one of Sunderland's greatest attacking outlets, but it is his raw speed that will be vital in Sunderland's attempts to nullify the lightning fast counter-attack that Claudio Ranieri has implemented since becoming Leicester manager.

Leicester have not fluked their way to the top this season, and unfortunately for Allardyce will prove clinical when faced with a Sunderland defence that will have kept no clean sheets in 15 games if they concede against West Brom.

Prediction: Leicester win

Norwich City (A) - April 16

This is without doubt the most important fixture left in Sunderland's season, and if they were to win at Carrow Road they would certainly hammer a sizeable nail in the Canaries' coffin.

Under Dick Advocaat, Sunderland slumped to a pathetic 3-1 defeat at home to Norwich in their first home game of the season, one that set the tone for the remainder of the Dutchman's tenure at the club. The club have improved since then though, and will be looking to set the record straight against Alex Neil's side.

Fellow relegation rivals Norwich humbled Sunderland in their first home game of the season. (Photo: Guardian)
Fellow relegation rivals Norwich humbled Sunderland in their first home game of the season. (Photo: Guardian)

Away form has been a real problem for Sunderland this season however, with only two wins on the road this season contributing to the third worst away record in the Premier League this season that only betters that of Newcastle and Aston Villa.

Both teams have conceded far too many goals this season, with Norwich letting in 54 goals compared to the 55 that Sunderland have conceded in the league this season. The Black Cats currently have a goal difference that is three goals better than that of Norwich however, and Allardyce will look to protect this come the day of the game.

Prediction: Draw

Arsenal (H) - April 24

Following the Norwich game is the visit of third placed Arsenal to the Stadium of Light, as they look to ensure Champions League qualification with their title dreams effectively over for another season.

Sunderland have already faced the Gunners twice this season, with games at the Emirates Stadium in the Premier League and FA Cup both ending in 3-1 defeats for the Wearsiders. The league match was a very unfortunate loss, as Allardyce's men created several clear chances and were unable to take them before being punished by the ruthlessness of Arsene Wenger's side.

Sunderland drew level but were unable to take their chances and paid the price in a 3-1 defeat. (Photo: Goal.com)
Sunderland drew level but were unable to take their chances and paid the price in a 3-1 defeat. (Photo: Goal.com)

The remaining home games are where the points will lie for Sunderland, and despite their opponents lofty position in the table will need to have a real go in front of the home crowd. Drawing from the home win against Manchester United where Allardyce's men created and took their chances will be a confidence boost for Sunderland, who proved on that day that despite their position they can beat the better sides.

I believe Sunderland will continue their history of beating the big boys in relegation battles, with a win that could well put a dent in Arsenal's Champions League hopes.

Prediction: Sunderland win

Stoke City (A) - April 30

Sunderland's final game in April is a trip to the Britannia Stadium to face Stoke City, who currently sit in 8th position with the Europa League likely out of their reach.

The reverse of this fixture was a 2-0 win that meant Sunderland won back-to-back matches in the Premier League after beating Crystal Palace 1-0 win in the previous game. In this match there was no doubt that Stoke were poor, and were run ragged by Duncan Watmore who single handedly drew countless fouls from Ryan Shawcross that led to him being sent off.

Ryan Shawcross' red card was a pivotal point in the reverse fixture. (Photo: Livesoccer888.com)
Ryan Shawcross' red card was a pivotal point in the reverse fixture. (Photo: Livesoccer888.com)

Despite the win however, Sunderland did not look convincing in front of goal until van Aanholt fired a 20-yard strike into the bottom corner and opened the game up for the final ten minutes.

Stoke however have a stronger starting eleven than Sunderland, and will put it to good use in a hard-fought win that will further consolidate their status as a top-half side in the Barclays Premier League.

Prediction: Stoke win

Chelsea (H) - May 7

Alongside the shock of Leicester leading the Premier League, reigning champions Chelsea have endured an inexplicably poor season in the Premier League as their star players failed to perform time and time again and led to Jose Mourinho being sacked by the club. Since then they have improved under interim manager Guus Hiddink, who is managing the club for the second time after previously holding the manager's job in the 2008/09 season.

Hiddink's first game this season was against Sunderland, who were on the end of a 3-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge back in December as Chelsea showed signs of improvement under their new boss.

Sunderland were unable to cope with Chelsea under their new management in December, but will things be different this time? (Photo: Mirror)
Sunderland were unable to cope with Chelsea under their new management in December, but will things be different this time? (Photo: Mirror)

The Blues still boast a star-studded side and although they have nothing to play for in theory, their players will be looking to perform in order to save face in what has been an embarrassing season for the 10th placed side.

Sunderland will have to be on top of their game if they are to get anything against Hiddink's side, and here I think that both sides will share the spoils of a hotly contested match.

Prediction: Draw

Everton (H) - May 11

Sunderland's final home game of the season comes in midweek against 12th placed Everton, who have lost only one game away from Goodison Park this season.

The Toffees have only won four home games this season, but one of those wins was an emphatic 6-2 scoreline against Sunderland, who were well in the game at 2-2 until they unnecessarily pushed for a third goal and paid the price on the counter attack.

Arouna Kone netted a hat-trick in the 6-2 rout, and Sunderland will be looking for payback this time around. (Photo: Guardian)
Arouna Kone netted a hat-trick in the 6-2 rout, and Sunderland will be looking for payback this time around. (Photo: Guardian)

Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku has been without a doubt Everton's star man over the course of their current campaign with 18 goals in the league, and he recently fired his side to the semi-final of the FA Cup with a brace against his former employers Chelsea.

Roberto Martinez has not quite delivered on his promise to the club of Champions League football just yet, but away performances are one thing that he has got right this season and that form will continue against Sunderland who will earn a point against the Merseyside outfit.

Prediction: Draw

Watford (A) - May 15

The final match of the 2015/16 Premier League season for Sunderland is a visit to Vicarage Road, where Quique Sánchez Flores' Watford will await them. Allardyce will hope to avoid a repeat of this season's 1-0 home loss against the Hornets, where Odion Ighalo scored past his now teammate Costel Pantilimon in a hugely disappointing game from Sunderland's point of view.

There is no doubt that the partnership of Ighalo and captain Troy Deeney has stolen the headlights for Watford this season, with the two scoring a combined total of 23 goals and amassing nine assists between themselves. 

Ighalo steers the ball past the now Watford man Pantilimon. (Photo: Sky Sports)
Ighalo steers the ball past the now Watford goalkeeper Pantilimon. (Photo: Sky Sports)

They sit safely in 14th position despite being tipped as relegation candidates after their promotion from the Championship last season, and have not enjoyed the best form of late, losing four out of their last six games and only winning one against Crystal Palace.

They are another side that have nothing to play for with safety guranteed, and if Sunderland's Premier League status comes down to the result of this game it will certainly be a nail-biter, and I feel that Watford will ensure that the home fans do not see a loss in their final match of the season.

Prediction: Draw

Sunderland's predicted final point total: 36