Belfast Telegraph

Weary Wearsiders kept waiting

Sunderland's fans have had to fight sleep more than any other supporters to catch their team on the main Match of the Day programme so far this season.

Gus Poyet's team have occupied the bottom slot - which usually airs close to or just after midnight - seven times, once more than goal-shy Aston Villa and twice more than Crystal Palace and Swansea.

The one time Black Cats fans did get to see their side in the prized opening slot so far was the 8-0 drubbing at Southampton on October 18. They also lost both times they were on second - at home to Arsenal on October 25 and at Manchester City on New Year's Day.

The BBC's head of football, Mark Cole, thinks the statistic could bode well for the 16th-placed Wearsiders.

He told Press Association Sport: "It's not personal. We've got a couple of Sunderland fans in the office and the chap who does all our stats is a Sunderland fan so he's keeping a particular eye on it.

"If they're on last by the end of the season the most, then it means they'll still be in the Premier League, because they won't be drawn into those big relegation battles that feature highly in the programme."

League leaders Chelsea have been on first the most so far - seven times - when looking at every Saturday night Match of the Day Premier League highlights programme since the start of the season, plus the three festive editions on Boxing Day, December 28 and New Year's Day.

The running order for each week's Match of the Day is a hot topic amongst supporters and how it is decided is top on the list of 'Frequently Asked Questions' on the Match of the Day website.

Explaining the process, Cole said: "At the start of the week the editor will have a plan of how he expects it to pan out and the length of each individual match to make sure you can fit it in that BBC1 slot. Then it's constantly changing.

"At half-time you'll perhaps have another look, and then at full-time. There's also the added complication of a 5.30pm game most Saturdays so you'll have a plan and then it can be thrown out of the window by what happens in that game.

"It's a collective operation but essentially it's the editor's decision, so he'll make that decision after talking to the presenter, the pundits, some of the match directors.

"What you're trying to look at in a nutshell is what game do people sat at home at 10.30pm on a Saturday night want to watch most?

"There's a combination of factors that go into that. People want to see the teams at the top, there's interest in relegation battles, but also what the game's been like. Goals do have a massive impact in where you are in the running order for Match of the Day."

The rise of social media has enabled fans to interact directly with the programme, its main presenter, Gary Lineker, and pundits.

The running order is now announced on Twitter ahead of the programme on a Saturday evening and flagged up throughout the broadcast.

Cole said: "Certainly the advent of Twitter and social media has made it even more hotly contested and fans aren't backward in coming forward to let us know their views.

"But all we try and do is be honest and say that we're looking at it from people at home's point of view and what games they want to watch.

"We think it's important we take each programme on its merits. Across the course of the season, each team should have their time in the spotlight, certainly if they score some goals. Last season 19 out of the 20 clubs led the programme, and this season 18 have halfway through it.

"It's great to have people talking about your programme and we love social media. You have got to be careful not to take some of the comments personally.

"Match of the Day is an institution and it's absolutely phenomenal the way people still watch a highlights programme. It's when people aren't talking about you that you get worried."

Manchester City have been on first the second-most times (five) and have appeared in the top three games more than any other side - 15 times in total to Chelsea's 13. Manchester United have been first on only twice - two times fewer than second-bottom QPR - but along with Tottenham have been on the main programme the fewest times - with only 11 appearances.

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