MATT Kilgallon says Sunderland's players will finish their Premier League season in style because they are fighting for their futures under Martin O'Neill.
The Black Cats became the first team to dent Manchester City’s perfect home record on Saturday with a battling 3-3 draw at the Etihad Stadium, the perfect response to the club’s FA Cup disappointment.
It was also proof that Martin O’Neill’s assurance that his team would not let the season fizzle out was not just idle words.
Kilgallon was one of the Black Cats’ best performers as he made the most of a recall at the expense of on-loan Sotorios Kyrgiakos.
After being frozen out under Steve Bruce, the former Sheffield United man is enjoying a fresh start under O’Neill – and he intends to make the most of it between now and the end of the season.
Kilgallon feels he is not alone in having a point to prove, and reckons the rest of the squad feel the same.
“We don’t want to throw this season away now,” Kilgallon said. “We were struggling at one point but in the last few months we have been outstanding.
“We now just want to finish it off in style. We want to finish in the top eight then next year people might be expecting bigger things from us.
“Everyone has to fight for their position as well, no one can afford to go through the motions.
“The manager will remember how we end this season, we have to remember that.”
Kilgallon has a contract that lasts until 2013 but despite the security of having another year left on his deal, he is not in a mood for another first-team exile.
After a satisfactory start for the Black Cats, Bruce took against the defender, who was left out of the party that toured Germany in the last pre-season.
He was never considered for first-team action and appeared to have no future on Wearside.
But he made his return against Manchester City in the Stadium of Light win in January and has been afforded a chance under the current boss.
“I just wish I could have had the chance before this manager,” Kilgallon revealed. “I don’t know what happened there. They just didn’t seem to want to give me a fair chance. You just have to keep your head down, the gaffer has come in and given everyone a clean slate.
“I just try to play as well as I can for him. I got an ankle injury first of all, but my time has come round again.
“I’ve got another year on my contract but I have to play well in every game.
“I can’t think I can afford a bad game because the next time the team is read out I will not be in it.
“Why would I want that? I have to focus on what I am doing every game.”
Now Kilgallon is looking to “make his mark” on the end of the season – unconcerned that Kyrgiakos was given the nod for the big FA Cup quarter-final in midweek.
He said: “You do yourself no favours if you sulk. You just have to get your head down and be ready for the next game.
“We have got seven games left. The gaffer said before the game that we can either go through the motions or really put your mark on this season in these last seven games.
“The lads all agreed with that and we are going to play every game like it is the first game of the season.”