Gus Poyet has told his players to treat today’s “massive” relegation six-pointer with Crystal Palace as if it is their last game of the season – and a sudden death survival scrap rolled into one.
Sunderland can leap out of the relegation zone with a win but defeat will increase the anxieties of a team who have some tough away fixtures on the horizon. It feels like a crossroads in the season but the Sunderland boss has embraced the pressure of the Palace clash, telling his players to behave as if it is the last game of the season.
“I would like (the players) to think this is the last game of the season. This is the last one. There’s not anything else after, we just need to win this one to stay up and then depending what happens you go to the next,” he said.
“If you play as a professional in every game like that then you are going to get plenty of reward from the fans. They will love you because you show them on the pitch that you’ve really given everything in a game.” Poyet’s approach in training has been to tell his players that no one is assured of a start against Palace – a tactic that has seen his players rise to the challenge.
“This week has been intense,” Poyet admits.
“It was the kind of week I like without massive quality but with intensity. Intense in tackles, intense in winning the games, intense in not conceding.
“You can feel that we are coming to an important game and we need to make sure we do that for every single one.” Poyet has a full squad to chose from and has warned even his most established stars that they have no divine right to play.
Sunderland delivered a below-par performance at Hull on Sunday and Poyet would be entitled to pick a completely different XI for the Palace game.
Lee Cattermole is set to retain his place despite the two errors he made at the KC Stadium, with Poyet excusing them as a result of him taking on extra responsibility to fill the void left by others. “This week we have challenged the players,” Poyet revealed.
“We’ve challenged them to make sure they put themselves in the team or on the bench. Everyday. Don’t come on Monday and Tuesday and think they’re going to be there, because maybe they won’t.
“I don’t want people to think they are going to play just because they’re good. I know maybe one or two through my whole career that were terrible in training, the worst, then very good on a Saturday at three o’clock. Here I don’t even know if we have (a player) like that. They need to show me everyday so there are no bad decisions from the manager. There are players who have got a better chance of playing because of what they have been doing week-in week-out, but then there is always one or two decisions and lots for the bench that will depend on the players.
“They don’t believe it sometimes, but it’s true. If you come in here everyday and have been rubbish for two or three days and have shown no interest whatsoever, then you are not going to play. That makes it very easy for me.”