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Are Sunderland relegation candidates?

With four points in four games this season, Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland must be considered a relegation candidate if things don’t change.

Last season, Steve Bruce was the first manager to be sacked following a dismal two wins in 13 games, and it was left to Martin O’Neill to save the team’s blushes after guiding them to 10th place in the Premier League. However, was this an indication of a strong revival under a superior manager, or a worthy indication of a team still only capable of mid-table mediocrity at best?

In Bruce’s first season in charge, Sunderland finished 13th. The next season, leading up to his dismissal, he was sacked after a 2-1 defeat to relegation-fighting Wigan Athletic in November 2011 with the team sitting in 16th place.

Martin O’Neill was appointed his successor, and became manager of his childhood club. There was a buzz around the Stadium of Light, one that whilst Bruce was in charge seemed to be lost, and fans felt O’Neill was the man to take this team from the brink of disaster and kick-start their Premier League season into action.

On the pitch, fortunes were with the Black Cats. Four wins in their first six games under O’Neill, Sunderland looked a real driving force. Talk of relegation was soon substituted with talk of Europa League contention, as O’Neill became Sunderland’s prophet. They made short work of Premier League Champions Manchester City in the league, whilst dumping Arsenal out of the FA Cup after an impressive fifth round victory in a season of revival for the northerners.

Since a mightily-successful baptism at the club, O’Neill’s light has somewhat dimmed. Whilst winning 8% more games than predecessor Steve Bruce, O’Neill’s Sunderland are struggling this season. If it wasn’t for Steven Fletcher’s red-hot scoring form, their fate may well be even worse.

Before Bruce departed the club, he picked up ten points in his final 12 Premier League games. In his last 12 games, O’Neill has picked up just nine, winning none. Their 1-1 draw with West Ham United this weekend, in a match where a rather fortuitous 1-0 lead was protected – not improved upon – for 83 minutes, was their fourth draw already this campaign, and their winless Premier League run still dates back to March 24.

Steven Fletcher’s fourth goal in three games this weekend was also Sunderland’s fourth goal of the campaign, as he is the only Sunderland player to score in the Premier League.

With four games played, four draws, four goals scored, four conceded, and four points on the board, Sunderland sit in 12th position in the Premier League table. Last year, 39 points were needed to survive relegation, and since the birth of the Premier League this figure is 38.6. Sunderland’s current point tally, which would see the club finish on 38 points, is enough to see them play Championship football next season.

Something isn’t right at Sunderland, and things need to change if the Black Cats are not only wishing to avoid mid-table mediocrity, but relegation too. Is this thing Martin O’Neill?

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