Defeat to Huddersfield Town, Birmingham City and Swansea City has left Sunderland's promotion push teetering on the brink of collapse.

While the message from Mike Dodds and those inside the club remains cautiously optimistic of finishing in the Championship's coveted top-six, they'll need quite the run between now and the end of the campaign.

Eight points adrift with 12 games to go, Sunderland will need an almost perfect run between now and the final game of the season, but that's easier said than done given their poor away record and current trajectory.

READ MORE: Mike Dodds delivers important message in Jack Clarke absence

There's plenty of questions regarding the current side following those three defeats on the spin. Are they lacking experience? Are they good enough? Why are they conceding silly goals? Where are their goals going to come from?

Questions Dodds will have to look to address between now and the end of the season.

In his previous spell in interim charge, Sunderland recorded an xG of 1.4 against West Brom, 1.2 vs Leeds United and 1.0 away at Bristol City. Enough to suggest, at the time at least, that chances would still flow in the final third.

However, the the first-half display against Swansea was arguably their worst half of the season on home soil, registering an xG of just 0.24 - rising to 1.0 by the time the final whistle blew. It certainly gave the defeat to Hull City a run for its money.

It's clear the lack of goals at the top end of the pitch has been their downfall so far this season. But, for all the finger pointing at the top end of the pitch, it was the defensive structure against the Swans that took a battering.

Was it an anomaly or is there a need to address underlying issues in the backline?

We Are Sunderland: Sunderland have conceded the joint fourth fewest goals(39) in the Championship this season.Sunderland have conceded the joint fourth fewest goals(39) in the Championship this season. (Image: StatsBomb)

Currently tenth in the Championship, this is reference point for comparing both their attacking and defensive metrics so far this season.

Last year, Sunderland and Anthony Patterson kept 14 clean sheets as they finished inside the top-six. Coventry's Ben Wilson ending the season with the most defensive shutouts - 20 clean sheets from his 43 games as the Sky Blues made the play-off final.

Contrast that to this season, the Black Cats have kept eight clean sheets, currently ranking 15th in the Championship. They may be just six clean sheets off last season's tally and have time to match that figure, but it's been nine games since their last - which came in the 2-0 win over Preston under Michael Beale.

Since then, they've conceded 14 goals - three of those coming against Newcastle United in the FA Cup - 11 in their last eight Championship fixtures. Conceding fewer goals was an area of focus for Beale when he came into the club, but the stats from the season as a whole actually show Sunderland as one of the division's top performers in that regard.

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According to Opta, Sunderland have conceded the fifth lowest amount of shots so far this season, prior to the defeat to Swansea City, with 272 across 33 games in the second tier.

They're also fourth in the league for goals conceded from open play - just 26 goals prior to the recent defeat against the Swans.

The Black Cats have the eighth best expected goals against from open play in the Championship at 28.54 so far this season. For comparison, Leeds United have the lowest xG of goals against from open play at 20.23, with Leicester City in second at 21.56, Rotherham United bottom with an xG of 48.43.

However, Sunderland are on par with the Millers for goal conceded from set plays, with 11 conceded - joint fifth worst in the Championship alongside, Leicester City, Sheffield Wednesday, Huddersfield Town, and Rotherham.

Blackburn Rovers the worst performers in the division conceding 15, Leeds United again coming out on top with just six goals conceded from set plays this season.

On the whole, the stats show Sunderland are performing better and tracking underneath their expected goals per game from open play, but their set plays have an expected goals against of 8.24, the 11 goals against, tracking higher than predicted

Statistically, Sunderland still have one of the best defences in the league, but when you bring that all together with their own xG on a downward trajectory, it's clear to see why they're some way off the top-six.

Both last season and in the current campaign, Sunderland would outscore their opponents, making the focus and reliance on a clean sheet less of a concern.

We Are Sunderland: Nazariy Rusyn reacts after missing an opportunity for Sunderland in their defeat to Swansea City.Nazariy Rusyn reacts after missing an opportunity for Sunderland in their defeat to Swansea City. (Image: Ian Horrocks)

Under Tony Mowbray, Sunderland had an expected goals of 32.8 from 19 games, averaging an xG of 1.72 per game, according to FBRef. Expected goals against was 20.4 in with an average of 1.07 per game.

In real terms, the Black Cats scored 29 goals under Mowbray, at 1.53 per game. After he departed, they've managed just 17 goals in 15 games, with an average of 1.13 goals per game.

Mowbray's Sunderland conceded 22 goals in those 19 games, at 1.16 goals conceded per game. That's improved slightly with 17 goals conceded from 15 games, to an average of 1.13. Albeit when you update the stats from the defeat to Swansea City, it's very much on par.

The drop off in the final third clear for all to see. If we look at Mowbray's final home game in charge, Sunderland recorded an xG of 2.6, their joint second-highest at the Stadium of Light this season. The Terriers recording an xG of 0.9, but left with all three points.

If we fast forward to the defeat to the Swans, Sunderland recorded an xG of just 1.0, compared to Swansea City's 2.2, again using stats from FBRef.

The drop off since Mowbray's final game and their most recent, is staggering. The caveat of course, is that the Black Cats were missing both Jack Clarke and Patrick Roberts from their starting line-up against Swansea, while a tactical rethink from Dodds also played its part.

The interim head coach has accepted part responsibility for the poor first-half display, but also laying the blame at the door of the players.

READ MORE: Sunderland lose further ground in play-off race after Swansea defeat

Dodds is tasked with picking up the pieces from Michael Beale's 63 day tenure at the Stadium of Light, during which time he tried to make Sunderland more difficult to break down.

You can see from the stats above, comparing life after Mowbray to now, that they have improved slightly prior to the defeat at the weekend, but at what cost?

Under Beale, the Wearsiders registered an xG of 10.9 over his 11 Championship games in charge, an average of 0.99. Expected goals against 12.2, an average of 1.11 goals against per game.

Dodds' stats from his previous spell in interim charge certainly bolster the numbers when it comes to life after Mowbray. The 37-yar-old can take pride in his previous spell back in December, but he can ill afford any repeats of the first-half against the Swans. 

Luke Williams' side blew the Black Cats away inside the opening 45 minutes, registering an xG of 2.14 before the interval, 2.2 across the full 90. It's the most xG conceded by Sunderland at home this season with 11 men.

An alarming cause for concern.

The graph below showing it was the right time to part ways with Beale, time will tell whether Dodds is able to turn things around and hit the heights of Mowbray.

We Are Sunderland: Sunderland's expected goals (xG) and expected goals conceded (xGA)under Tony Mowbray, Mike Dodds and Michael Beale.Sunderland's expected goals (xG) and expected goals conceded (xGA)under Tony Mowbray, Mike Dodds and Michael Beale. (Image: StatsBomb)

In Dodds' previous three games in interim charge, Sunderland boasted a respectable expected goals against. Against promotion rivals, West Brom and Leeds United it was just 0.6, while at Bristol City it was 1.0. The 2.2 recorded against Swansea impacting his tenure in charge overall.

The Championship table may not accurately reflect their defensive display this season, but it's clearly reflecting their fall off in the final third. 

Sunderland rank tenth for expected goals from open play with 32.60, according to Opta, but have only managed 30 goals so far this season. Again with set plays, they're underperforming with an xG of 12.58 but have only managed 10 goals.

In terms of goals from open play, Sunderland rank 15th in the division, ninth in relation to goals from set plays.

For all the talk of stats, if we go off what the eye sees, it's a fair suggestion to say Sunderland have controlled games in terms off possession, but lacked that sting in the final third.

We Are Sunderland: Sunderland's zone of control, with blue indicating gain more than 55% of total touches. Zones labelled red show where the opposing team gain more than 55% of total touches, while the others are considered contested in grey.Sunderland's zone of control, with blue indicating gain more than 55% of total touches. Zones labelled red show where the opposing team gain more than 55% of total touches, while the others are considered contested in grey. (Image: Opta/ The Analyst)That's nicely demonstrated in the image above with Sunderland controlling the zones  inside their own 18-yard-box, own half of the pitch and wide channels.

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At first glance, you may think the red zone can be used to relate to Sunderland's lack of threat in the final third, but in truth it can't. After all, how often do you see a football game played out in the opponents 18-yard box? Every team in the Championship has recorded red in the opponents 18-yard-box for zone control.

All in all, it's a fair suggestion to say if Sunderland are able to churn out more clean sheets, while rediscovering their attacking output from earlier in the season, that push for the top-six may not be as far away as first thought.

Their defensive statistics can act as a brilliant platform to kick on from, but it's the final third holding them back as things stand.