THE Great Escape began with an unexpected point at Premier League champions-elect Manchester City.
But although that draw at the Etihad – after Vito Mannone’s late error denied Sunderland victory – ended a run of five defeats on the spin, it still felt like the last hurrah of an ailing patient edging closer to their fate.
It wasn’t until Sunderland’s exhausted players rejoiced in the away dressing room at Stamford Bridge three days later that they had a sniff of saving their skins.
No one had given Sunderland a prayer prior to their trip to Chelsea; certainly not of registering the three points which were realistically needed to put their survival bid back on track.
Jose Mourinho had overseen 77 unbeaten top-flight outings on home turf, while only West Brom had previously been bottom of the Premier League table at Christmas and managed to survive.
But the Black Cats achieved the seemingly impossible with that 2-1 win and suddenly sensed that avoiding the drop was a possibility.
Tomorrow’s visit of Chelsea appears to be an equally uphill task.
After losing to Atletico Madrid in the Champions League semi-final second leg, 10 days after the Sunderland defeat, Chelsea have been in imperious form.
The summer captures of Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas have taken Chelsea to a different level, with Mourinho’s men dropping just four points in the Premier League this season.
But with the memory of April’s victory still fresh, Sunderland midfielder Seb Larsson is relishing the possibility of another coupon buster to take Chelsea’s unbeaten scalp.
“That win was a massive one,” said Larsson.
“I can’t remember where we ended up in the table afterwards, but I do remember the feeling in the dressing room afterwards.
“A lot of us thought we were going to do it then and stay up.
“Let’s try to make it two in a row.
“They have just thrashed Schalke 5-0 away from home, so we know what we’re up against.
“But at the same time, we know we’re capable.
“Let’s have a right good go and see what we can do.
“You enjoy these games.
“Yes, of course, some sort of pressure is taken off you, but we’ve taken points off them before.
“I don’t think many of the top teams fancy coming to the Stadium of Light because if we can get the crowd behind us, we’ll give them a tough afternoon.
“But we’ve got to play absolutely 100 per cent to take anything off Chelsea.”
Tomorrow’s Stadium of Light tussle begins a challenging week for Sunderland, with Man City visiting Wearside next weekend before the trip to Liverpool four days later.
But with Chelsea the only member of the Premier League’s heavyweights to have enjoyed any consistency this season, Larsson says there is no reason why Gus Poyet’s side should be daunted by the quirks of the fixture list.
“Look at the league this year,” added the Swedish international.
“Apart from Chelsea and in some ways Man City, everyone is dropping points everywhere.
“Lesser teams are beating the bigger ones, so why can’t we?
“We’ve done it before.
“We’re not looking at these three games and hoping for one point. We’ll try to get as many as possible.”