Even World Cup winners struggle with relegation nerves, says Sam Allardyce

Djorkaeff and Allardyce at Bolton

Djorkaeff and Allardyce at Bolton

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One of Sunderland’s assets at this business end of the campaign is the number of players who have previously experienced the mental tension of the relegation battle.

After three previous years of escape acts, Sunderland are well-versed in how to preserve their top flight status, albeit by the skin of their teeth.

Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce hopes that his dressing room leaders such as John O’Shea and Lee Cattermole can pass on the experiences of those successful survival fights.

But Sunderland are also fielding several players facing their first taste of a Premier League drop battle, when remaining in the top flight is worth around £100million due to the new television deal.

Allardyce hopes the likes of new boys Yann M’Vila, Jan Kirchhoff and DeAndre Yedlin can cope with the “squeaky-bum time” at this stage of the season, despite not having experience of fighting against the drop in the past.

But he knows from the earlier days in his managerial career that even the most mentally strong players can struggle with the magnitude of make-or-break games.

“There’s an awful lot who haven’t been in this position with the changes we’ve made this season and in January,” said Allardyce.

“Hopefully the lads who’ve experienced it before can pass it onto the others.

“I’ve seen World Cup winners and European Championship winners struggle in games like this.

“The lads at Bolton did.

“We were at Southampton away and needed to at least draw, and that team played the worst game they’d played of the entire season.

“But the one important thing they did was keep a clean sheet.

“Even the best players in the world can be affected by the pressure and I didn’t expect that at the time.

“I expected (Youri) Djorkaeff, (Jay-Jay) Okocha, (Ivan) Campo – all those people – to deal with it, but we got through it because we didn’t concede and we ended up staying in the Premier League.”