RICKY Sbragia is adamant Sunderland remain in relegation trouble as they gear up for the Boxing Day clash with fellow strugglers Blackburn Rovers.
Although the Black Cats have put some distance between themselves and the bottom three with comprehensive victories over West Brom and Hull City, Sbragia is predicting it could take a record number of points to stay in the top flight this season. West Ham were relegated with 42 points in 2003 and it could take a similar amount to avoid the drop this year.
Only nine points separate Manchester City, who are third from bottom, and Hull who are sixth, with one result capable of completely transforming a team’s league position.
With that in mind, Sbragia, who remains reluctant to become the club’s permanent manager despite his positive impact as interim boss, continues to be concerned about their position in the table ahead of the arrival of Blackburn.
“Blackburn are stronger than we are,” said Sbragia, as he attempts to supply a healthy dose of reality to the club’s predicament. “They’ve been in the Premier League for a lot longer than us and we’re still learning.
“It’s going to be a very difficult game. Sam (Allardyce) got off to a great start on Saturday and it was difficult going down there when we came out 2-1. It’ll be even tougher because Sam will have them well organised and when somebody new comes in the players always seem to raise their games.
“We’re still in that mire in terms of relegation. We need to carry on with the good work and we’re focusing on coming
out of these next two games unbeaten. I’d love to be 10 points clear of the bottom three but that’s not happening. Everybody is beating each other so the cut-off for relegation this year won’t be 34, it’ll be 40 points.
“We still need to get a lot more points on the board before we starting thinking we’ve got ourselves out of trouble. We’re still in danger and if it doesn’t go well over Christmas we’ll be back where we started.”
Sbragia has been told by chairman Niall Quinn he will be in charge of the team for the entire Christmas period and the two have even met to discuss potential transfer targets. Yet Sbragia still looks a reluctant manager, admitting he has had things easy so far as a caretaker.
He said: “We’ve won a couple of games and everything is great, I’m really enjoying it, but then every manager would say that when they are winning. I’ve not experienced that other side as a manager, that’s when it’s hard, so I don’t know.
“There are parts of the job I really enjoy, but there are others I don’t, I don’t like the hours.
“If I was a full-time manager I’d have to spend more time in the office and in meetings when what I really enjoy is being out on the training pitch.
“It’s easier when you’re winning. It breeds confidence and the whole place is bubbling. I’ve enjoyed it so far and I’m happy to see it through (until someone is given the job permanently).
“I’ve not heard anything new about a new manager, I’m just doing what I was asked to do a couple of weeks ago.”
The excellent results under Sbragia have made Roy Keane’s decision to quit earlier this month look more hasty than ever, but his former first team coach refused to be critical of the Irishman in any way, shape or form.
He said: “Roy did brilliantly to get the club to where he did, I’ve got nothing but praise for him and I would never be critical of him.
“He did really well to keep the team up last season, but he knew there was still a lot of work to do. We have to continue that. I wish he was still here.”
Meanwhile, Sunderland have announced that grassroots football in the region will benefit from the VAT savings the club collects from individual match ticket sales from December 1 until May 24 next year.
The club has committed to buy a minimum of 100 junior teams their new strips for next season.
This offer is open to any established boys or girls school team or junior side that is a member of a recognised association or youth league. Teams must be in the Under-7s to Under-14s age range and be based in the North East.