Gus Poyet believes victory at Fulham today can spread “fear” among Sunderland’s relegation rivals, and drag more clubs into the battle against the drop.
The Black Cats had previously been adrift at the bottom of the Premier League.
But recent results – their own and those of others – have left them just one point below West Ham and four behind Cardiff City, who sit just above the relegation zone. Crucially, while Sunderland travel to west London this afternoon, Cardiff host the Hammers.
Targeting the traditional benchmark of 40 points to survive, Poyet has challenged his team to claim eight more victories by the end of the season.
And asked if a win today can increase the pressure on those clubs immediately above them in the table, the Sunderland head coach said: “I feel that and I’m seeing that.
“I can’t wait to do that because we’ve been looking far away for many weeks and looking like it didn’t matter how well we did or improved, we were still far away from the other teams.
“But now we’re one win away and it could change completely. It’s just getting that win now and that’s how important Saturday is.
“Can we call it a cup final? After a cup final there’s nothing after it, but with this, there are more games to play, but not too many more.
“We want teams worrying about what’s happening below them. It happened to me in my last year at Spurs as a player, we couldn’t win and the rest were coming.
“Somehow we were lucky that the rest didn’t come quite close enough and Leeds went down and we were safe but, yes, we want them looking over their shoulder.
“There are a few teams above us who aren’t doing very well and I’m sure they’re beginning to feel a bit of fear as well.”
Poyet – who will have been encouraged by reports emerging from Brazil yesterday that Internacional are willing to sell striker Ignacio Scocco for a fee of around £4.8m – added: “If you go back to the West Ham game, we played fantastic and should have won.
“We’ve had a few crazy games at home, but we won atEverton and we came back against Cardiff. We’ve done well quite well in games without getting results. I think we are more consistent and I hope the team are the same against Fulham, but a little bit more clinical.
“We’re going there and we’re trying to make sure we get the points. We are trying to look at a quantity of points, around 40, and if you think of the position we are in, we need to win eight games.
“But it is always important to get those wins as soon as possible so you put yourself in the mix, put yourself ahead of someone.
“We need that to happen soon – we are so close. We didn’t have this chance two or three weeks ago, but now we have one and we have to put it right ourselves.
“In the first half of the season we had a lot of home games against the top teams; now we have a run of games with the teams that are in and around us.
“It’s getting close to that cup final in the league. This is a game that can change the complexity of the season.”
SUNDERLAND’S home game against Stoke has been moved to Wednesday, January 29 at 7.45pm instead of the previous night due to Stoke’s FA Cup tie with Chelsea.