DICK Advocaat is braced for the relegation battle to go down to the last day of the season, with five teams neck-and-neck in the battle for survival.
Defeats for bottom two Burnley and QPR on Saturday left the pair facing an instant return to the Championship, with maximum points from their remaining three games unlikely to be sufficient to stave off the threat of the drop.
However, third bottom Sunderland are one of five teams – including free-falling Newcastle – separated by just two points who are battling to avoid the final relegation spot.
Sunderland face the worst run-in of the quintet on paper, albeit they still have a game in hand at Arsenal during the final week of the campaign.
But with margins so tight between so many, Sunderland head coach Advocaat expects the relegation battle to go down to the wire after the Black Cats kept their survival hopes alive with victory over Southampton.
Advocaat said: “We still have everything in our own hands.
“Newcastle are a bit closer now. They have to win their games now, otherwise it will be very difficult for them.
“I think it will be exciting until the last game maybe.”
With fourth bottom Leicester beating Newcastle in the lunchtime game on Saturday, and then Aston Villa emerging victorious against Everton, Advocaat admits it was imperative that Sunderland recorded the second win of his reign against Southampton.
Advocaat, who has now registered seven points from his five games in charge, concedes that if Sunderland had come away empty-handed on Saturday, then it may have been curtains for their hopes of remaining in the Premier League.
Despite the win, Sunderland are still a point adrift of safety, yet have given themselves a chance of beating the drop, with the Black Cats heading to Everton in the lunchtime kick-off next Saturday.
“Knowing the results of the other teams, it would have been very difficult if we’d lost on Saturday,” added Advocaat.
“We’re still involved and it’s all up to ourselves to do what we have to do.
“Now we start thinking about Everton away.
“Definitely, it’s important to put pressure on the teams above.
“Burnley lost and QPR lost, so we’re made some difference between them and us.
“But there’s the teams above us and maybe Newcastle, on 35 points with difficult games.
“So yes, I think we can go on to the end.”