Gustavo Poyet has told his Sunderland players they can still be heroes – but they are fast running out of chances.
Two weeks ago the Uruguayan told his squad they would need four wins to escape relegation.
After unexpectedly picking up one of them at Chelsea last week, they have four more opportunities to get them – three at home to sides also in danger of dropping out of the Premier League.
Fulham are the only bottom-half team the Black Cats have beaten this season, and that away from home. Ahead of tomorrow’s televised game with Cardiff City, Poyet admitted Sunderland cannot keep passing up such chances. “If we take this chance, I’ll forget the missed opportunities very quickly indeed,” he said.
“We are very lucky to have this chance, and I find constantly coming back to that. But we need to do everything possible to stay in the Premier League, and that means taking this chance that has come along. Football is scary. This team is bottom of the league, but they can still be heroes. That’s the way it is. When you get to this moment, having had so little chance, and you do something incredible, you become heroes.”
The worry is that Sunderland appear to have a mental block against teams they are expected to beat, and that they struggle under the pressures that come with being at home.
“In terms of playing and creating, we’ve done it in the last few games at home,” Poyet stressed. “We created enough against West Ham and Everton, but we didn’t convert enough. We had chances against Palace (a 0-0 draw).
“The thing we are missing at home is to put the chance away against a team that is not giving us much space. Cardiff need to win, so maybe they need to do something different because they will be bottom if they lose. Maybe they will do something that is better for us.
“We conceded early against City and Chelsea, that’s something you don’t want to do against those teams. But we came back and scored. I know the team is giving everything. We’ve had a few bad halves, but lately the team has been fighting and fighting.
“We have been in this situation, or very similar ones, many times, but we haven’t been able to take advantage of it. The world of football has given us another chance, and it is time to take it.”
For the first home game this term, Sunderland will have an on-form Connor Wickham after his three goals against Manchester City and Chelsea. Poyet said before those games his team needed a “miracle” to stay up – his view hasn’t changed.
“To be bottom of the table at Christmas and be only the second team in the history of the Premier League to get out from there would be fantastic,” he said.
“With six games to go we were dead because our next two were City and Chelsea away. Plenty of things were pointing to us being down, but we are here. The challenge is still there.” Liam Bridcutt could return from injury, but Ki Sung-Yeung misses out. Phil Bardsley is back from suspension.