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Can Sunderland Clear the Storm Clouds above the Stadium of Light?

Sunderland fans are a loyal bunch, supporting their team through thick and thin, and, if football attendances were reflected in league positions, they would be chasing promotion. Boasting average attendances of nearly 28,000 throughout the 2017-18 EFL Championship season, they are one of the best-supported teams in the English second tier.

Whilst that is around twenty-thousand short of the 48,707 all-seater capacity at the Stadium of Light, it's still hard to put a Black Cat down. Unfortunately, though, those faithful fans have had little to cheer during the current campaign.

Sunderland on the slide

Having been considered one of the teams who would be pushing for promotion back to the Premier League, following relegation from the English top-flight at the end of the 2016-17 season, a seemingly positive four-match unbeaten start to the campaign proved to be a deceptive introduction as to how the season might pan out for the Black Cats. Between 28th August and 31st October, Sunderland failed to produce a single win in 13 league encounters, which eventually cost manager Simon Grayson his job.

Former Welsh national team boss Chris Coleman was appointed on 19th November 2017 to halt the slide, but, as of 6th February 2018, Sunderland are priced at 8/13 to be relegated from the Championship, signalling that bookmakers are far from confident he'll ultimately bring a change of fortune for the under-performing side.

Avoiding a potential double whammy

Clearly, consecutive relegations would be a hammer blow for both the club and its fans. On paper, Sunderland would appear to have a squad capable of much better than their current position in the Championship but, since his appointment, Chris Coleman's side have only managed to produce 4 wins in 13 league games, accompanied by 2 draws and 7 defeats. The Welshman was keen to get stuck into a good challenge with a prominent team upon his return to club management but the disappointing results obtained only highlight the difficulty of the task he faces.

Only twice during his tenure thus far have Sunderland managed to briefly push themselves out of the relegation zone; once, after the win against Nottingham Forest away at The City Ground on 30th December 2017, and, more recently, the 1-0 home victory against fellow strugglers Hull City on 20th January. Such form will clearly need to be improved if the team can once again nudge themselves into the safety zone.

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Not since the Roker Park days have Sunderland descended to the third-tier of English football, spending just one campaign in the old Third Division during the 1987-88 season, which was the lowest ebb in the 139-year history of the club. Thirty years later, it's an experience the club and its faithful legion of supporters hope to avoid repeating.

Nevertheless, whilst Coleman recently admitted that many team and individual player performances are giving him sleepless nights, particularly following the frustration after the 0-2 home defeat against Ipswich Town at the start of February, he remains determined to guide his team to safety. The biggest issue appears to be a lack of confidence, or enough mental fortitude to confront the challenges facing the team, and, as far as Coleman is concerned, every player will need to dig deep to produce the wins they so desperately need.

After making five additions to the squad during the January transfer window, with three of those signings arriving on deadline day, Coleman believes that, once they quickly settle into life at the Stadium of Light, those players will help contribute towards the team achieving its objective. Of course, he also insists that several players within the squad who have been at the club for some time now also have much more to offer, given their wealth of professional experience.

It's certainly going to be a very tough and challenging few months until the end of the 2017-18 Championship season but, if Coleman can cure the mental weakness that has been evident at Sunderland for much of the campaign, and provide inspiration for his squad, there is more than enough talent amongst the players to reach the light at the end of the tunnel, and to avoid relegation.

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