Seventh is not a particularly lucky position for Sunderland at present. True, it is the respectable league placing they currently occupy, but it is also the position that has denied them a passport to European competition in the last two seasons.
Since rejoining the Premiership gravy train in 1999, the Makems have taken on the look of an established top-flight side — the dreaded R-word has been neither mentioned on relevant in the case of Peter Reid’s side. Not always the case with promoted sides.
Reid’s achievements at the Stadium of Light bring one burden to his shoulders — expectation. Success — and that’s what the former England man has undoubtedly created — brings a heavy load of expectation and the massed ranks of what used to be known as Rokerites now fancy stepping up a notch and invading the playing fields of Europe.
Since amassing a staggering 105 points during their 1998-99 promotion season, finishing a double seventh is a huge achievement in itself. The only drawback is that, on both occasions, the Black Cats looked poised to lord it in the top five or six. The final push proved just beyond them.
The pressure to deliver invariably falls on the predatory instincts of Kevin Phillips along with his experienced sidekick Niall Quinn.
The England man has scored 100 goals in 144 league games since his arrival as a relatively unheralded signing from Watford in 1997 following Sunderland’s relegation.
In his first season, where Sunderland were cruelly denied promotion by Charlton in the play-offs, Phillips netted 35 goals, breaking the long-standing club goalscoring record of one Brian Clough.
He managed to break the 30-goal barrier in his first season in the Premiership and, such has been his impact, the scoring of 18 goals last season was considered by some to be a tad disappointing.
The striking load is shared by Quinn, but the former Arsenal man has been struggling to put runs of games together due to a back injury and Phillips has often been left running without his regular cohort.
Matchmaker Reid is trying to put another partnership together and, to that end, in the summer he recruited Lilian Laslandes from Bordeux for in excess of £3m. The Frenchman has yet to trouble the Premiership scorers, but did net in the Worthington Cup against Sheffield Wednesday — the downside being that Wednesday triumphed 4-2.
That defeat was Sunderland’s second of the campaign, the other being to Fulham in the League. Victories have been enjoyed over Ipswich and Blackburn, while a point has been registered against Newcastle and Aston Villa.
An early-season blow for Reid was the departure of the influential midfielder Don Hutchison to West Ham. Reid is reported to fancy the Hammers’ Trevor Sinclair in return, but Hutchison has cheekily intimated that Sunderland are a bit too ‘route one’ for Sinclair.
Whoever Reid finally secures, it is highly unlikely to be before Wednesday as our depleted defence will have their hands full enough coping with the threat of a combination of Quinn, Phillips and Laslandes — perm any two from three.
A repeat of last season’s encounter would be a welcome boost for the squad — a 3-2 triumph after being two goals down. The injury irony is that our goalscorers that day were Stephen Clemence and Gary Doherty — now both plastered in the cast around the leg senseÃƒÆ’Ã†â€™Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¢ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…Â¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¬ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¦