After scoring 38 goals in winning 11 successive Premier League games,Liverpool have emerged as clear favourites to win the title with just three fixtures remaining. Yet their current five point lead in the league table owes as much to the current exploits of basement team Sunderland as to their own impressive recent form. Condemned by many experts as certainties for relegation, the Black Cats have responded with a draw at Manchester City and then a shock weekend victory at Chelsea to serious dent those team’s hopes of challenging Liverpool for the league crown.
Sunderland had not won a match since their defeat by Manchester City in the Capital One Cup Final during the first weekend in March and five successive league defeats had drained the team of confidence prior to two daunting trips to two teams vying for the league title. Having collected only 25 points with six games remaining, the omens were not promising for the Wearside team.
When Fernandinho opened the scoring for City against Sunderland within two minutes of the kick-off, a comfortable victory seemed certain. Yet Gus Poyet’s players weathered the early onslaught from their opponents and became increasingly confident in securing a surprise point. Two late second half goals by Connor Wickham suggested that a thoroughly unexpected victory was possible but when goalkeeper Vito Mannone allowed a routine Samir Nasri shot to drift slowly into the net, the points were shared.
For Sunderland, it appeared that it had been a wasted opportunity to close the gap on the other relegation contenders, but for Manchester City, the draw may be a mortal blow in their pursuit of a second league title in three seasons.
It was a case of déjà vu for Sunderland at the weekend when Samuel Eto’o opened the scoring for Chelsea after just 12 minutes play. Once again, the Black Cats were expected to fold under waves of home pressure but when Mark Schwarzer could only palm a long range drive into the path of Wickham, Sunderland drew level.
Despite Chelsea efforts to find a winner, the away defence remained stubborn and their doggedness was rewarded in the later stages when a disputed penalty was converted by Fabio Borino. The Black Cats thwarted attempts by Chelsea to force an equaliser and so inflict a first league defeat for Jose Mourinho at Stamford Bridge.
A team which had been labelled as Championship material for next season have suddenly awoken to offer serious hope of escaping the relegation zone, while they have also inadvertently dashed the hopes of Liverpool’s closest challengers for overhauling them in the title race.
The past two results for Sunderland prove that no team can dismissed lightly in the Premier League and that there will probably be a few unexpected twists and turns at both extremes of the table as the season reaches a climax.