Sunderland need four-point haul from West Ham, Palace and Southampton, says Sam Allardyce
Sunderland’s trip to Allardyce’s former club West Ham tomorrow marks the start of a decisive week in the complexion of the relegation battle, with the Black Cats hosting sinking Crystal Palace on Tuesday night before a clash at Southampton next Saturday.
Victory over Manchester United a fortnight ago reduced the gap to the safety mark to a solitary point, with Sunderland in the midst of an encouraging run of form which has seen them take 11 points from seven games in 2016.
But Allardyce knows second-bottom Sunderland are still playing catch-up with their peers in the relegation battle and believes they need to average more than a point per game during the triple header on the horizon.
“It could be a very big week with three games in the week,” he said.
“If we win two out of the three, it would be magnificent.
“If we go undefeated, that would be fine – if it was win one, draw two.
“But, for me, we’ve got to get at least four points.
“We need more points than games because that means we catch up a little bit and there’ll only be nine games left after that.”
Allardyce believes it is doubly important that Sunderland maximise their points return over the next week, because of the complexion of the fixture list after the Southampton trip.
With Everton reaching the FA Cup quarter-finals, Sunderland face a two-week gap between the Southampton clash and the Tyne-Wear derby on Sunday, March 20.
Then there’s another fortnight’s break because of internationals, with Sunderland potentially facing more rearranged games in April because of Arsenal’s participation in the FA Cup.
Sunderland could find themselves in a situation where they have plenty of games in hand, yet their relegation rivals have the comfort blanket of points on the board.
“The unfortunate way the fixtures pan out mean Everton is no longer a fixture for us,” said Allardyce.
“That’s a problem because after that, there’s the international break.
“And then, if Arsenal continue in the FA Cup, there’s another one which will need to be rearranged.
“That will disrupt us in terms of the flow of games.
“Instead of me complaining about them being too close together, they’re actually going to be too far apart and what do we do in those two-week periods when everybody else might be picking up points?
“We may have that to manage, so the lads need to get as many points as they can in this three games and try to relieve that pressure a little bit more.”
If Sunderland are to begin their triple header with a victory in their last ever visit to West Ham’s Upton Park base, they will have to end an undefeated home run for Slaven Bilic’s side which stretches back to August.
After succeeding Allardyce at the helm, Bilic has benefited from some astute summer signings to take the club into the quarter-finals of the FA Cup and just one point adrift of fifth-placed Manchester United.
Ahead of his return to the club, Allardyce said: “I had a fantastic time working with a lot of the players there.
“The vast majority of the squad were what I brought to the club in my four-year period there.
“There’s a few additions that Slaven has bought, which have given them that bit better strength of depth.
“One player, particularly, has made a huge difference, which is (Dimitri) Payet.
“He has been a key element to the success they’ve gained and victories they’ve gained.
“They haven’t lost a home game since August, which is a magnificent effort and shows the difficult task we have.
“Even though I left Slaven with a good squad, he had to go and manage it and he’s managed it well.
“But, for me, it’s about going there and taking as many points off them as we can, because we’re far more desperate for the points than they are.”