Sunderland In Nowhere Never Land

Matthew MaloneyCorrespondent IMarch 5, 2009

Sitting pretty (or perhaps, not very pretty) five points above the relegation zone, ricky sbragia's sunderland face a fight to the finish to retain their premier league status once again. In the short term, things aren't looking so bad, five points is a healthy buffer some would say. I would agree.

Not many teams have that kind of leg room to work with, especially the way this season has unfolded where up to six or seven teams have at best been one win or loss away from the siren's call of a relegation battle.

Perhaps the key to sunderland's chances of staying up is that they've been there before and have been successful, many of the playing personnel and back-room staff (including Sbragia himself) will have "fond" memories of the relegation battle from last season when sunderland somewhat stubbornly refused to go down (based on their good home form).

Unfortunately sunderland with just 10 games to go now, aren't exactly hitting the heights based on recent form, their last 10 games reveal an alternating procession of wins, losses and draws making their form  worryingly hard to predict.

What's more, their performances this season in the league and the cups haven't revealed anything worth noting as a something that carves them out from the others they face in their final run in, not even good home form (in fact they've lost more at home this season than they've won).

What does stand out to me is the quality of their squad. It's not bad. Cisse and Jones are a formidable twosome and would probably be first choice for any team in the bottom half (except maybe Spurs) while their injury list isn't anything fatal at the moment.

Another positive, especially in relation to the teams around them is a solid enough defense, Aston Villa in fourth place and 10 places above them in the table have only conceded six goals less. Likewise goal difference isn't train wreck material a la WBA.

My own take on who will be safe this season is likely to centre around the question of which teams are likely to be the "least worst."

All joking aside, the fact that so many teams having been involved in the relegation battle this season, including man city and wigan who now sit eighth and ninth either shows the "quality" of competition in the bottom half of the premier league or the absolute dearth of quality there. I'm not exactly a glass full kinda guy so I'm going with the latter on that one.

If I were a betting man, I'd bet on WBA as a relegation certainty. The other two "unlucky" clubs could be any one of Portsmouth, Newcastle, Stoke, Sunderland, Hull, and Blackburn. I would tend to favour teams with less haphazard managerial arrangements too (no offence to Portsmouth or Newcastle).

Unfortunately truly erratic form from all sides involved makes any bet an extremely short term project. it may well be that luck plays a role in the form of refereeing or injuries more than ever considering the absolute dour similarities among the belligerents this season.

Looking through the mirror nowhere never land land seems a lot bigger than usual.