Third-bottom Sunderland are still in charge of their own destiny with plenty of twists awaiting in the relegation battle, insists Jan Kirchhoff.
Despite extending their unbeaten streak against Newcastle United to nine games, Sunderland were left with a sense of disappointment when the final whistle sounded at St James’s Park yesterday after again surrendering a lead in the dying stages.
Sunderland have now failed to hang onto the advantage in three successive games, with the equaliser in the last two, coming in the dying stages to deny Sam Allardyce’s men much-needed victories.
The 1-1 draw on Tyneside handed fellow relegation rivals Norwich City a two-point buffer with Sunderland, albeit the Black Cats boast a game in hand on the Canaries, while the Wearsiders have joined Newcastle and Aston Villa in the drop zone.
But despite Norwich winning for the first time since January 2 in Saturday’s surprise 1-0 success at West Bromich Albion, midfielder Kirchhoff has stressed that the relegation battle is far from decided yet, particularly as Sunderland travel to Carrow Road next month.
Kirchhoff told the Gazette: “We’re still above Newcastle; two points behind Norwich with a game less, so it’s still all in our own hands.
“We have to believe we can win our own games.
“Norwich won their last game, so they’ve obviously got a good feeling. But we’ve played a game less, so it’s in our own hands.
“We’ve still got to play against them in a big important game.
“We can do it. It’s still in our hands and we believe that we can do it.
“It’s just about winning games. There’s eight right now.
“There’s no winner (in the relegation fight) this weekend. There’ll be no winner in the next game.”
The impressive Kirchhoff had helped to control proceedings for the opening hour on Tyneside, with Sunderland the better of two struggling teams and going ahead on the stroke of half-time through Jermain Defoe.
But as the German tired, Sunderland began to sit deeper and deeper, with Aleksandar Mitrovic heading home an 83rd minute equaliser for the Magpies.
Kirchhoff admits there’s a mental issue that Sunderland must overcome when defending their own goal after a 16th game without a clean sheet.
“We were good enough to win this game, but we lost it again in the last 10 minutes,” added the ex-Bayern Munich man.
“We have to work on it and work as a team on our intensity in the last few minutes, to stay focused.
“We have to start getting clean sheets, which is the main thing at the moment.
“Good defending is always a mental thing. You have to be focused because every little situation can count; sometimes when it’s just a throw-in for the opposition or yourselves.
“Yesterday we lost one situation and it was the one real good chance for Newcastle, but they scored.
“We lost our intensity. We can’t manage to keep the pressure on the ball, so we had to sit back because we were afraid.
“We’ve been in the position to get six points from the last two, but we’ve only managed to get two.
“It’s going to be a really hard last eight games of the season.”