Sam Allardyce insists he can handle the weight of Wearside on his shoulders, ahead of the pivotal penultimate weekend of the season.
Sunderland could move to within the brink of safety tomorrow if they beat Chelsea and results elsewhere go in their favour, or the Black Cats could sink four points adrift of fourth bottom Newcastle and lose control over their own destiny.
At the start of three games in the final eight days of the campaign, it’s a decisive afternoon for Sunderland and manager Allardyce is under no illusions about what is at stake for the city, club’s supporters and employees.
But after a 25-year managerial career, Allardyce’s confident that he can handle that burden and shepherd Sunderland to a positive result, ahead of their game in hand on Newcastle next Wednesday.
Allardyce told the Gazette: “I understand the pressure and just what we’re responsible for in the city and in the football club.
“There are people who love working for this football club and have worked here for many years, and fans who have been watching for many, many years after being brought down by their mum and dad or grandparents.
“Players have to understand that and the disappointment we’ll all feel if we fail to succeed.
“It lands on my shoulders first because I’m the manager and I have to take the responsibility for that.
“It’s a big weight to carry, but I wouldn’t do this job if I didn’t think I was capable of handling that and guiding the players in the right way forward to get the right results.”
Sunderland’s players clearly felt the pressure of the situation at Stoke City last weekend, when the Black Cats produced their poorest performance of 2016, albeit they rescued a point thanks to Jermain Defoe’s last-gasp penalty.
Allardyce has tried to shelter his squad from that burden this week, with the training schedule relatively light-hearted to ease the anxiety levels.
“It’s been slightly less pressurised, a bit lighter and a bit more fun for the training programme,” added Allardyce.
“The player then actually works a bit harder than he thinks he does.
“They’ve been training with a smile on their face for most of this week.
“We’ve talked about Chelsea a little bit and done a little bit of analysis, which the lads get to download and watch in their own personal time.
“Hopefully they take that on board and go and perform tomorrow.”