Former striker John Hartson believes finishing above Norwich City will cement Newcastle United’s spot in the top flight for next season, hinting on BBC Radio Five Live that Sunderland are likely to go down.
Aston Villa, Norwich City, Sunderland and Newcastle make up the bottom four and the general consensus suggests it is a matter of two from the final three to join Villa in relegation to the Championship.
Newcastle have under-performed this season, and they made the big decision this week to replace the under-fire Steve McClaren with former Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez.
"The next three games are huge for Rafael Benitez and Newcastle. They play Leicester, Sunderland and Norwich next. You only have to finish above Norwich to stay up,” he explained.
“I think it's two from Sunderland, Newcastle and Norwich to stay up. The Norwich game is as big as any other fixture they will face."
While Hartson’s opinion is as valid as any other, current form would suggest that Sunderland are far more likely to challenge Newcastle for a spot in next season’s top flight than the Canaries.
Alex Neil’s side have not won a league game since early January, and their latest 0-0 draw at home to Manchester City while a good point still illustrates their underlying lack of goal threat.
Sunderland, in contrast, are in the best form of those in the bottom four and their manager Sam Allardyce is an expert at keeping teams up, having previously done it at Bolton Wanderers, Blackburn Rovers and West Ham United.