Onside: Can injury-hit Sunderland stay up?

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It might not be the final nail in the relegation coffin, but the way that the fixtures and injuries have played out it seems Sunderland’s relegation grave is being dug.

Steven Fletcher and Lee Cattermole have both been ruled out for the rest of the campaign for Martin O’Neill, which is a huge blow to his side ahead of yet another survival battle.

With eight games remaining and an international break for the boss to prepare his side, Sunderland now face champions to be Manchester United.

And we must face them without top scorer and club captain.

Now I understand that anyone can pick up injuries but when you are in the situation that we find ourselves in they can seem harder to take.

O’Neill has used a 4-4-2 formation for the last few outings and our goal threats still remain few and far between.

But Fletcher’s injury means that Danny Graham must step up the plate and Connor Whickham has more of a chance to prove his undoubted worth.

There is no question that Lee Cattermole has been sorely missed and surely will be for the remaining games.

Next up is United and then Chelsea with the Tyne-Wear derby following that.

And we all know how Sunderland perform in those fixtures.

But I remain confident we can overcome the relegation battle again and will be playing in this division next season.

Why?

Simple. I think there are worse teams than us in the same situation.

QPR and Reading appear to be already out of touch with the rest of the pack as they each have to overcome difficult games in their own run in.

So there is just one spot left in the Premier League cemetery.

Aston Villa (17th) and Southampton (16th) both have worse goal differences that Sunderland – but we must take both sides on.

A home tie to Everton follows the game against our neighbours in black and white and then we take on the Paul Lambert-lead Villa who have not been in bad form of late thanks to the goals of Christian Benteke.

An always difficult fixture against Stoke follows the six-point outing and then, depending on results around us, the Southampton game at the Stadium of Light could prove to be Sunderland’s biggest of the campaign.

And if that isn’t enough, Champions League-chasing Tottenham away is the final game of the season.

In my opinion, three wins from the final eight games would see Sunderland stay up.

As long as two come against the teams around us and the other, well everyone should know whom that one needs to come against.

But O’Neill will need to count on his men who have so far not been good enough for the Premier League battle.

Ha’way the lads.

- Martin Dunn