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It’s now or never for Sunderland in their fight against relegation

It’s all very well having games in hand, but Sunderland are going to have to start winning some of them before it’s too late and they fall through the trapdoor into the Championship. And that means taking all three points at home to West Ham United on Monday night.

Cardiff (still 2/7 with Coral to be relegated), who really needed more than just a point at West Brom on Saturday, and Fulham (now 1/8), beaten at home by Everton on Sunday, already look doomed, but there’s one more place all the teams in the drop zone are fighting desperately hard to avoid and at the moment it’s Sunderland (4/5) who are occupying it.

And with one of their chief rivals, Crystal Palace (27/10), shocking Premier League leaders Chelsea at the weekend, the pressure is really on the Black Cats not to be cast adrift in the bottom three.

Sunderland’s fixture list in the second half of the season always offered hope that they would survive. Yes, they had several tough away games against top six sides, but their home games were mostly against teams in the bottom half of the table.

The trouble is, Gus Poyet’s men have failed miserably at the Stadium of Light with just 12 points and 13 goals from 14 games in front of their own fans. Their run to the Capital One Cup Final was a great boost to morale, but it is not being reflected in improved League results – they have taken just one point from their last five matches.

Poyet will have taken great encouragement from Sunderland’s sterling effort at Liverpool last week when a second half rally inspired by subs Adam Johnson and Ki Sung-Yeung almost won them an unlikely point.

But there can be no more excuses and no more hard luck stories; Sunderland just have to beat West Ham ahead of a frightening run of fixtures against Spurs away, Everton at home, Manchester City away and Chelsea away.

West Ham, who made such hard work of beating ten-man Hull City in east London that manager Sam Allardyce was booed by the home fans, would seem ripe for the taking. A February surge took them to safe haven in mid-table, but they aren’t in the same sort of form now and would appear to have very little left to play for, apart from pride.

But they aren’t, mathematically, quite out of the woods yet (20/1 with Coral to be relegated) and with ex-Newcastle players, Andy Carroll and Kevin Nolan in their ranks, they are unlikely to roll over.

Even so, I expect Sunderland (5/4) to go at this game with the same sort of gusto they displayed in the Capital One Cup ties and kick-start their late bid to stay in the Premier League, maybe even winning by a couple of goals (Coral go 10/1 it finishes 2-0).