Sunderland were unable to secure a much-needed victory at home to a stubborn West Bromwich Albion side on Saturday, as Norwich earned all three points against Newcastle on a weekend that saw the gap between the Black Cats and the Canaries increase to four points. Here VAVEL takes a look at five things that were learned from the goalless draw, with time running short for Sam Allardyce's side.
Three defensive midfielders is one too many
Allardyce opted to start Saturday's game with Yann M'Vila, Lee Cattermole and Jan Kirchhoff in the centre of midfield. In a game where West Brom where always going to sit deep and soak up the pressure, Sunderland were crying out for a creative player in the middle of the park as they lacked any real penetration.
Wahbi Khazri certainly fits the bill in this regard, and has been playing on the left side of midfield since he signed in January. Perhaps the Tunisian could be moved into the middle so that Sunderland can really take the game to the opposition, which is something they must do in order to stand a chance of surviving.
If Khazri moved into the middle, then Jeremain Lens would be available to play on the wing for the final matches of the season. Lens has become a forgotten man under Allardyce, and was not even included in the squad on Saturday, which is a shame when he possesses the quality that could win his side vital points.
Rare clean sheet can only boost confidence
Sunderland were able to keep a rare clean sheet on Saturday, something they haven't achieved for their last 17 league games. Despite the clean sheet coming against a side that registered zero shots on target and never looked like they were interested in scoring, it can only bring confidence to a defence that has been lacking it all season.
Younes Kaboul and Lamine Kone look to be forming a solid partnership in the heart of defence, with Patrick van Aanholt and DeAndre Yedlin likely to fill the full-back roles until the end of the season.
The worry is that Vito Mannone still does not look as assured as he once did, and Sunderland's opposition will realise this and test him as much as possible. The Italian will need to ensure he does not lose focus if he is to help his side survive.
Draws need to be turned into wins - starting next week
Sunderland's downfall in recent times has been the constant draws that perhaps should have been wins. Three points were thrown away at Newcastle and Southampton, as well as losing their grasp on the game against Crystal Palace.
Saturday was no different, and the Wearsiders were forced to settle for a point once more after being unable to find a way past the impressive Ben Foster. They certainly had the chances to win it, with Jermain Defoe failing to convert a glorious chance in the dying minutes of the match in addition to several other openings created by the Black Cats.
It won't be easy, but to stand any real chance of catching Norwich Allardyce must oversee a victory against table toppers Leicester, who visit the Stadium of Light next week expecting to earn all three points to aid their title bid.
Fail to beat Norwich and relegation is all but confirmed
Failing to beat West Brom was bad enough, but the news of Norwich's late winner at home to Newcastle on Saturday means that the upcoming game at Carrow Road is undoubtedly the most crucial match out of Sunderland's remaining seven.
The Black Cats currently sit four points behind Norwich, albeit with a game in hand at home to Everton, but by the time the two relegation rivals meet the gap could have increased to huge seven points if Norwich win and Sunderland lose against Crystal Palace and Leicester respectively.
With Newcastle six points away from safety, it looks as if there is only one place in the bottom three yet to be decided, and the match at Carrow Road has a huge say in who will finish in 18th place.
If Sunderland are to go down - they need to press the reset button
It is a well known fact that Sunderland have been flirting with relegation since they were promoted to the Premier League under Roy Keane in 2007, with a tenth placed finish under Steve Bruce in 2011 the highest they have finished over their nine year stay in the top-flight.
If Sunderland do drop into the Championship, they should use the opportunity to press the reset button and rid themselves of the many average players that have been given huge wages by various different managers.
Whether Allardyce stays or if someone replaces him, they need to be given the full season to make their mark on the club and bring some form of stability to the club, as it has not been seen on Wearside in a long time.
The Championship is a notoriously difficult league to get out of, with recently relegated sides such as Wigan, Bolton, Blackburn and Birmingham proving how hard it is to survive without the riches of the Premier League helping to attract quality players to their clubs.