Adam Johnson is predicting a bright future under Gustavo Poyet – if Sunderland can just collect enough points to guarantee Premier League survival.
The Black Cats have wrestled their fate back into their own hands after a stunning win at Chelsea on Saturday but now have to hurdle their fellow strugglers Cardiff to retain their momentum ahead of a huge fortnight for the club.
So much rests on the outcome of the next few games and the future for the Wearsiders will be very different depending on whether they stay up or slip into the Championship. Indeed England winger Johnson is one of a number of players whose own future will be under scrutiny if the team drop into the second tier.
The hope at the Stadium of Light is that Sunderland make that particular debate redundant by doing enough over the next few games to stay in the division. Johnson predicts that the club can kick on under Poyet if they remain in the Premier League.
He said: “It’s amazing. If we stay up now you never know what might happen under the gaffer with his vision and how he wants to play.
“If we can just get over the line here next season will be a totally different season. To be fair I said that last season but it feels a little bit different this year. I think it’s definitely a lot better. Going into it next season should be better than it is now.”
Despite a fixture list which seems to offer them hope – they take on Cardiff, West Brom and Swansea at home and travel to managerless Manchester United – there are concerns about Sunderland’s form at the Stadium of Light.
Generally they have not managed to find the goals they need to sink their struggling rivals in the big six-pointers and Johnson is candid enough to admit that they need to do more on their own patch.
He said: “We can’t take it for granted against Cardiff, we’ve got to take our performances into this game. We’ve been better on the road in general. The big teams aren’t as ratty, there are big pitches, they don’t press as much and maybe because we’ve got really good players in the bigger games everyone rises to them more.
“We just can’t seem to get it going at home at the moment, really.” It does appear as though Sunderland’s fate will be settled in the final throes of this season but Johnson is no stranger to last-day denouements, having played for Manchester City when they dramatically snatched the title out of Manchester United’s hands.
The Black Cats might be able to settle it before then if they collect enough points and Johnson admits there may be twists and turns ahead for Poyet’s men as they hit the final few weeks of the season.
He said: “That game convinced me anything can happen in football. But we’re miles away from that yet. There were only seconds remaining then, we’ve got a few weeks left yet.
“Those sort of last-second goals happen every weekend, but to win a game just shows it’s never over until it’s over.
“It’s nice to have it in our own hands again.
“We probably couldn’t have asked for more than these remaining fixtures. We’ve got teams in and around us and if I was looking at other teams’ fixtures in and around us I wouldn’t feel quite so comfortable.”
“The way we want to play is that when someone gets the ball they have options on to pass it – if possible to pass forward first and foremost,” added Cats boss Poyet.
“Sometimes you can’t do that, because of good marking or whatever, so you then pass it sideways or backwards if you can’t.
“The most important thing is to go forward if you’re playing the game right, but also to hold on to the ball if you don’t have openings.
“Played right though, it is a very positive way of playing.
“The other week against Manchester City, I don’t know how many times we passed balls forward through the lines, to a midfielder to go forward.
“I don’t know how many times we passed the ball in behind their defenders.
“That’s why you create more – because you play in a certain way – and we have been playing in that certain way in the last few weeks, which has been great for me to see.”
Meanwhile, Louis Laing is understood to have impressed Manchester United during a week’s trial at Old Trafford.
The Journal understands that the Red Devils are also taking a closer look at John Egan, the Irish defender who has been released by Sunderland.
The centre-back is also interesting League One side Bradford City, who took the defender on loan last season before a broken leg ended his season.
The 21-year-old is currently on loan at Southend, where he has played 11 games.