David Vaughan can’t believe Sunderland are facing a battle against relegation.
The Black Cats have been in freefall of late, having failed to win a single game in the Premier League since their win at Wigan Athletic in mid-January. Three draws and four defeats later, Martin O’Neill’s side find themselves just four points above the Lancashire side, who occupy the final relegation spot but have a game in hand over their nearest rivals.
Norwich City, who have also been in poor form recently, travelled to the Stadium of Light on Sunday, but despite spending much of the match with ten men, they left Wearside on the back of a 1-1 draw. This, more than any of their recent struggles, perhaps served as a reminder of the battle lying ahead of Sunderland with just eight fixtures remaining.
“It is our fault we’re down there, nobody else’s, and it’s up to us to get ourselves out of it,” Vaughan is quoted on the Sky Sports website. “We’re on a bad run. It’s difficult to keep confidence high. It’s hard to accept. When you look at the squad, we should not be in this position. We really need the points and have some tough fixtures but we’ve actually done better against the top teams, so I’m still hopeful we’ll get them.”
O’Neill spent heavily on his squad during the summer, bringing in Steven Fletcher from Wolverhampton Wanderers for £15million and Adam Johnson, the England international, from Manchester City in a well-received £10million deal. He further added to his options when the window reopened in January, most notably when he saw off competition from a number of clubs to lure Danny Graham from Swansea City for £5million.
Worryingly for Sunderland, their fixture run-in looks more dangerous than any of their rivals. They resume their programme following the international break with a visit from runaway leaders Manchester United, whilst they face trips to Chelsea, archrivals Newcastle United, and fellow strugglers Aston Villa next month; a home date against Everton, who are gunning for a UEFA Europa League this season, complete their April calendar.
They finish the campaign with a potentially daunting trip to top-four hopefuls Tottenham Hotspur, but it is the two matches before this White Hart Lane fixture which offer most optimism: a double header of home games, against Stoke City and then Southampton, could yet prove vital if they are to retain their top-flight status.