The joyous scenes which met the 1-0 win over Newcastle United just last weekend must already seem a lifetime ago for the suffering Sunderland fans.
A Jermain Defoe volley gave the Black Cats victory over their fierce rivals last Sunday afternoon, a match which was undoubtedly the highlight of another disappointing campaign at the Stadium of Light. Hope was high they could build on this success to edge away from relegation trouble, and on paper, the visit of an albeit in-form Crystal Palace looked like an ideal opportunity to do so.
However, the Eagles have been in inspired form since Alan Pardew succeeded Neil Warnock in January, with their own drop fears long since replaced with a revised target of a top-ten finish. And this confidence was evident on Wearside, as a Glenn Murray opener on 48 minutes set them on the way to a 4-1 win, which also included a hat-trick from midfield player Yannick Bolasie.
For Dick Advocaat, for whom this was only his third game in charge since succeeding Gus Poyet as head coach, this was a wake-up call that he and his players are still very much involved in a fight for survival. The Dutchman, who had earlier this week revealed that clubs who take him on usually want him to stick around, admitted he was surprised at the way his side crumbled against Palace.
“We did not see that because after the game on Sunday, we trained really well this week,” he said on Sky Sports. “You could see during training that the confidence came back. We still have everything in our own hands but we have to win games. You cannot lose 4-1 against Crystal Palace because in home games you have to get results. It’ll be a long 14 days because next week we don’t play.”
Due to Arsenal’s involvement in the FA Cup semi-final next weekend, Sunderland are not in action again until 25 April when they face a tricky trip to the Britannia Stadium to face Stoke City. The Gunners match at the Emirates Stadium has been rearranged for the penultimate fixture of the campaign, which is followed by the equally daunting trip to Chelsea four days later.
The Black Cats’ misery was compounded by victories for two of the sides also involved in the relegation fight, as Aston Villa won at Tottenham Hotspur whilst Leicester City collected three points at West Bromwich Albion. This means Advocaat’s side have slipped to 16th place in the table, a position which could be even above them by the time they line up against Stoke.