Sunderland’s players have to embrace the pressure cooker of the survival fight in a decisive final week of the season, insists Sam Allardyce.
The Black Cats’ bid to remain in the Premier League will go to the wire after Allardyce’s side slipped back into the relegation zone on Saturday – a point adrift of fourth-bottom Newcastle, albeit the Magpies have played an extra game.
If Sunderland register seven points from the three games in the final eight days of the season – starting with this weekend’s visit of Chelsea – then they will finish above Newcastle, although second-bottom Norwich are still firmly in contention for survival.
However, Sunderland will need to perform significantly better than they did in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Stoke City, when Allardyce admitted his players were wracked by anxiety
Allardyce will speak to the squad about that tension this week, but with Wearside hanging on every fresh twist in the drop battle, the Sunderland boss is looking for his side to relish the occasion against Chelsea.
“In terms of the city, it’s very close knit and the fans are very close,” said Allardyce.
“They want to touch and have contact with the players as much as they can.
“I don’t see anything wrong with that. We’re paid to take the pressure, so let’s take it and play our best.
“Let’s accept where we are and let the pressure bring the best out of us, so we can make everyone happy at the end of the season.
“We need to get back to that performance against Arsenal (last week’s 0-0 draw).
“Look at that performance, particularly in the second half, and try to emulate it on Saturday against Chelsea.
“We’ll need to be at our very best against Chelsea to get the all-important win to take advantage of the game in hand we have over Newcastle.”
Neighbours and relegation rivals Newcastle have now taken eight points from their last four games, when the Magpies had appeared to be on the brink of joining Aston Villa in the Championship.
Both Newcastle and Sunderland’s weekend results were shaped by penalties – the Black Cats earning a share of the spoils through a last-gasp Jermain Defoe equaliser, while ex-Magpie Yohan Cabaye saw a spot-kick saved in Crystal Palace’s 1-0 defeat at St James’s Park.
But even though Newcatle leapfrogged Sunderland in the drop battle, the Black Cats remain in charge of their own destiny due to their game in hand.
“I’m not surprised (by Newcastle) because they’ve spent a huge amount of money and have got a lot of quality players – and they’ve had a bit of fortune,” added Allardyce.
“They had good fortune in that Crystal Palace missed a penalty.
“We could have been in a lot better position had Palace scored.
“We can’t control that. We can only control our own destiny by beating Chelsea.”