Sunderland currently sit 15th in the Premier League table, which may sound safe, but it isn't at all. The Black Cats are currently being dragged into the relegation fight, and the international break couldn't come at a better time for Martin O'Neill's side.
Sunderland's form is currently as poor as their manager's dress sense when he tucks his tracksuit bottoms into his socks. Without a win since January 19, Sunderland are currently in a downward spiral.
Of course, there are teams much worse off than the team based at the Stadium Of Light. Reading have lost their last five matches, Queens Park Rangers are struggling to lift themselves off the bottom, and both Wigan Athletic and Aston Villa are still odds on for the drop. But Sunderland's descent towards the relegation zone has been both rapid, and worrying.
Just 10 games ago, Sunderland were sat comfortably in 13th place, and considering their improvement last season when O'Neill took over, their name was barely even mentioned when it came to discussing who would be dropping to the Championship.
However, in the last seven matches, they have lost to Reading, Arsenal, West Bromwich Albion and QPR, and drawn with Swansea, Fulham and Norwich. But the most concerning of those was the most recent result against the Canaries.
TalkSPORT radio presenter Georgie Bingham summed up the game perfectly when she tweeted:
How are Sunderland not winning this when Norwich are down to 10, had a pen against them + stonewall pen denied? Booing understandable.— Georgie Bingham (@georgiebingham) March 17, 2013
And booing there was. After some questionable officiating decisions, Sunderland were handed the game on a red and white platter. But they failed to make the most of their opposition being down to 10 men, being awarded a penalty although there was a potential offside and avoiding conceding a penalty thanks to the linesman deeming Danny Rose's handball to have come outside the box when he was clearly inside. As Chris Hughton pointed out: "It was in the box. It was not a good day in terms of decisions against us."
The substantial lack of clinical finishing shown on that day, and the recent drop in form, shows that Sunderland are starting to self destruct.
And when Connor Wickham—a player whom has scored just one Premier League goal—is brought on to try and change the game, you know that the club is in trouble.
Sunderland fans will breathe a sigh of relief this weekend as the international break gives their club a chance to take time to work on their weaknesses and try and regain composure. As their current spiral towards the bottom three looks to be unstoppable at the moment.
The players and supporters will be looking to Martin O'Neill to take this week off competitive football to put some hard graft into the tactics board and the training ground. And this weekend could prove influential on whether Sunderland turn that corner and drive towards survival, or if they continue to plummet at a fast pace towards certain relegation.
And this break will benefit Sunderland the most out of all those in the relegation race, as they have a manager who knows how to survive in the Premier League and has a squad that has the potential to stay a top flight side. They just need to stop this slide they are currently hurtling down, and a weekend break could well be they key to stop the rot.
Sunderland were in trouble last year, but O'Neill brought them back from the dead. And all involved in Sunderland AFC will be looking to the Northern Irishman to use all of that experience to take stock in the next 10 days, regroup, reassess and rejuvenate their survival challenge.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!