His side are far from out of the woods yet, but I’m willing to give some credit to Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill after being critical of the Northern Irishman for much of the season – he does seem to be in the middle of turning around the Black Cats’ campaign.
O’Neill was pretty incredulous when questions were raised about the job he was performing at the Stadium of Light, but he had no real right to be so touchy: Sunderland have been dreadful nearly all season long.
Goals had been hard to come by and displays had been dire, and heading toward Christmas the Black Cats were in the bottom three, and deservedly so.
It looked as though O’Neill had run his race and he wore the look of a man who didn’t appreciate how bad things had become and didn’t have a clue what to do about it.
But in fairness to the former Celtic boss, there has been a mini-revival on Wearside when it didn’t look at all likely.
Three wins from four matches have lifted Sunderland from the relegation zone to the dizzy heights of lower mid-table and all of a sudden, things are looking a bit rosier at the Stadium of Light.
A defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford was to be expected, while wins over Reading and Southampton, while not being the greatest gauge of how good a side is, were more than they had managed over the previous few months and put some space between them at the division’s strugglers.
Their hard-fought 1-0 win over Manchester City on Boxing Day was a fine victory, even if they did ride their luck on the day, and it means that as Tottenham Hotspur head north for the Premier League’s early Saturday kick-off, they face a tougher proposition than they would have done just three weeks ago.
That said, Spurs are still favourites at 21/20 with bwin to win the match, with the draw at 12/5 and Sunderland at 5/2 to follow up their victory over the champions with another top-four scalp.
The top four is where Spurs reside going into the last game of 2012 and the aim for Andre Villas-Boas is to be there come May.
To that end, his side are picking up results and since a 5-2 thrashing by north London rivals Arsenal, Tottenham have been one of the league’s form teams.
In fact, only Manchester United have won more points over the last six games and Spurs have won five and drawn one of the last seven, the only defeat being the last-gasp loss at Everton.
The 4-0 thrashing of Aston Villa could have ended up being a real cricket score and they head to the north-east full of confidence.
But Sunderland are in decent fettle themselves now and I think this could be a tight match, which is why my play is the 23/20 that the match is all square at half-time.
Both sides are unlikely to adopt a gung-ho approach initially – Sunderland because it is not really in their nature and Tottenham because their statistics suggest they are hardly the division’s fastest starters.
Villas-Boas’ side are the half-time draw kings of the Premier League, with ten of their games so far this term going in level at the break, and there have been very few goals in the opening 45 minutes of their matches – just 15 in 19 outings (compared to 44 after the interval).
These numbers are not a coincidence, so I think AVB will go north looking to quieten down what will now be a buoyant home crowd and the 23/20 that the sides are drawing at half-time is the bet.