Sunderland’s nerve-jangler at Norwich City this weekend will be decided by which team can handle the mental pressure of a relegation decider, believes Sam Allardyce.
It’s do-or-die time for Sunderland at Carrow Road on Saturday where a victory for the Black Cats would propel them to within a point of fourth bottom Norwich, while defeat would extend the gap to seven points and realistically leave them with one foot in the Championship.
Sunderland have generally maintained their composure in a number of positive performances over recent weeks, even if that has not helped Allardyce’s men record the victories to stay out of the drop zone.
But with so much riding on Saturday lunchtime’s encounter for both clubs, Allardyce knows there will be an abundance of anxiety which Sunderland have to handle if they are to record their first league win in Norfolk since 1985.
“The key for us is keeping our nerve now and being intelligent and brave enough to handle the situation and produce our best performances,” said Allardyce.
“If we handle the mental side of it, then technically we’ll be good enough.
“If we don’t handle the mental side, then our technique and focus will let us down.
“This league is one that punishes you to extremes if you have lapses in concentration at any stage of the game.
“And of course, that lapse in concentration cost us against Leicester.”
Allardyce has never suffered relegation from the Premier League during his managerial career, yet will face that very real possibility if Sunderland’s plight becomes bleaker this weekend.
The Sunderland boss insists he is staying calm over the situation in the relegation dogfight, with two of Sunderland, Newcastle or Norwich realistically facing Championship football next season.
But he does admit there is a sense of regret that Sunderland’s prospects are so grave after fluffing three successive opportunities to record victories against Southampton, Newcastle and West Brom.
“I’m not panicking,” he added.
“I try to stay calm and show the players the right way forwards.
“The huge disappointment is waiting for the players to turn it around themselves.
“I hope that the chance to turn it around hasn’t left us.
“We’ve had that run of games where we should have won three on the trot, and deserved to win three on the trot.
“But we didn’t. Will we get that chance again? I don’t know.”