Aston Villa v Sunderland: an important match in an important season in the Premier League, with those dropping out of the league to lose an estimated £50m in television rights and other bonuses.

The six-pointer at Villa Park seemed irresistible, even if it was a cold Monday night and a 400-mile round trip. I was one of the Sunderland faithful who made it down to the West Midlands that night, still buzzing after the derby and the 1-0 home win against Everton - but Villa Park changed everything.

Villa are a side still below Sunderland in the table, and to be beat by five goals by a team you're battling relegation with is unspeakable at this stage of the season. And I fear that, under Paolo Di Canio with his attacking mentality, seeing Sunderland concede many as well as score many - like Southampton under Nigel Adkins - will become a regular occurrence.

I know Sunderland fans will always regard him as a hero after the 3-0 victory over Newcastle United, but a team as average as Sunderland can't attack that hard away from home. Credit to Villa, it was a combination of a poor Sunderland performance and an excellent display from home fans and Christian Benteke alike that saw them succeed - but I fear the repercussions of this game, in particular the red card for Stephane Sessegnon, could leave the Black Cats a lot closer to the relegation zone than a lot of people thought.

With two massive home games arriving in the shape of an improving Stoke City side and an impressive Southampton team, it really is squeaky bum time. Let's not forget Sunderland are without Lee Cattermole and Steven Fletcher still and with Sessegnon out they are without three of their most influential players and without cover. This is evident with Mikael Mandron making his first appearance on Monday.

This worries me, as Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson have proved that strength in depth can make the difference and Sunderland now have the option of a lacklustre Danny Graham who has failed to impress and a much untested Mandron to choose from up front with Connor Wickham supposedly nursing an injury and no natural centre-forward to sit in the hole where Sessegnon does. The depth of Sunderland's squad is quickly becoming an issue, leaving them as one of the weaker sides in the current dogfight to stay in the Premier League.

Perhaps I will be wrong - and as an avid Sunderland fan I hope I am, but 40 points has always been the benchmark in the Premier League and with a distinct lack of goalscorers now in the side I fear for Sunderland's survival.

However, I have no doubt Di Canio won't let the players off lightly and a win against Stoke would surely see their Premier League status secure with Aston Villa and Wigan playing each other in the last game of the season.

Also let's not forget a Newcastle side, who are in bad form, and Wigan, who are five points from safety with a game in hand. The relegation battle is 

far from over, even with only three games to go.

Do you think Sunderland will be safe? Will Wigan ever go down? Who do you think will go in one of the most competitive leagues in the world?


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