Can Sunderland’s Tough December End on a High?

Can Sunderland’s tough December end on a high? Even with a near capacity crowd expected at the Stadium of Light and their loyal fans keeping the faith, the simple answer that many would give is “probably not.” The Black Cats came into the December fixtures on the back of two wins against Crystal Palace and Stoke City. These wins took Sunderland out of the relegation places, unfortunately they were back in the bottom three soon after.

December 2015 was always going to be a tough month for Sunderland. Arsenal, Watford, Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool were always going to provide difficult tests for Sam Allardyce’s men. Three, maybe four points and some good performances were hoped for to keep Sunderland in touch with those outside of the bottom three if other results didn’t go their way. It would also give them confidence and a platform to build on going into the second half of the season, and also what could prove to be a very important transfer window.

Ahead of the visit of Liverpool to the Stadium of Light, Sunderland have failed to pick up a single point so far this month and what is more worrying to their supporters is that performances the likes of which were seen against Crystal Palace and Stoke City seem to have gone missing of late.

Against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium, the Black Cats put up a brave fight, performed well and the eventual 3-1 score line to the hosts flattered them. After this game midfielder Ola Toivonen believed, like many others that Sunderland deserved more from the game, “I think we deserved a better outcome from the game but if you don’t score against Arsenal and take one of your chances then you aren’t going to end up with three points,” he said.
“We had some good opportunities with Fabio (Borini) at the beginning of the game. We were solid defensively and we worked together, we got the goal and we had some big opportunities in the second half to make it 2-1.”

Watford, who had been surprising everyone (and continue to do so) with their results and performances were next up at the Stadium of Light. This game was seen by many as Sunderland’s best chance of securing three points during this run of games. Watford had other ideas. They scored an early goal and could have easily been out of sight by the time Allardyce decided to make tactical changes with 20 minutes were on the clock. Sunderland rallied at times but from the off it always looked like being a bad day at the office. Watford won 1-0.

Two away games either side of Christmas followed. Struggling Chelsea, who sacked their manager 48 hours before kick off in an attempt to kick start their season and Manchester City who are looking to take back the league title they believe Chelsea have been keeping warm for them.

At Chelsea, Fabio Borini scored his first goal since returning on a permanent basis from Liverpool. However by the time his goal came in the 53rd minute, Sunderland were already three goals down. The game ended 3-1 to Chelsea,

At Manchester City, Sunderland this time found themselves four goals down before Borini scored. Three goals came in a ten minute spell during the first half effectively ended the contest. After the match the Sunderland manager made an apology: I have to apologise to our fans who travelled today. We all knew it was going to be difficult against Manchester City, but I did expect us to show a little bit more fight and determination.” 

After hoping for one or two good results and performances, Sunderland go into their final game of the year on the back of four straight defeats and some poor performances. Can they end December and the year on a high? It’s going to be very difficult after their recent performances as confidence has taken a big hit. The league table at present does not make good reading for all connected with Sunderland. They currently sit second bottom with only the very poor Aston Villa keeping them from propping up the entire Premier League. The Black Cats are currently seven points from fourth bottom Swansea City with a game in hand (vs Liverpool), and that game in hand must be considered a must not lose game.

There are certainly positives that supporters can look upon going into the match. Liverpool have also had a difficult December. They have won just once in the league, currently sit tenth in the table and have failed to beat the likes of Newcastle, West Bromwich Albion and Watford recently. Sunderland, back at the Stadium of Light have looked a lot tighter defensively than when on their travels. Sam Allardyce’s men have conceded just two goals at home since he took charge, however both goals resulted in defeats.

A big positive for many will be the imminent return of midfielder Lee Cattermole. He has been sidelined of late with injury and his quality has certainly been missed. Allardyce is hoping the return of Cattermole will ramp up the intensity and improve their play off the ball.

 In other team news, Sunderland could be without captain John O’Shea and if so this could leave Sunderland very short at the back. With Younes Kaboul already on the sidelines, Sam Allardyce may have to turn to the experienced Wes Brown, promising youngster Tom Beadling or midfielder Jack Rodwell who is also capable of playing in central defence.

Sunderland will be roared on by a near capacity crowd against Liverpool and if the fans and more importantly the players can do their bit then a positive result, although by no means certain, could be acquired come the full time whistle. All at Sunderland have everything crossed that this game can give them the best possible platform going into 2016, a year which will hopefully, unlike previous years, see safety secured sooner rather than later. It’s going to be tough but it can be done. As the Sunderland faithful say: “Keep The Faith”.