Gary Rowell column - What I learnt from successful relegation battles

Gary Rowell
Gary Rowell
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LOOKING back on my Sunderland career, if there’s one thing I’ve got experience of it’s relegation battles so I know exactly how the players are feeling at the moment.

There’s nothing better than going on the pitch stress-free when you’re riding high in a comfortable position, but it’s the complete opposite when you’re in a relegation scrap with games running out.

Everybody must be in it together, nobody can be above anybody else or feel the results don’t apply to them

Three times in my years at Sunderland, I played in battles that went down to the wire, and survival hinged on the last game of the season.

Two of those were won – against Liverpool and Manchester City – and the defeat was at Goodison Park, against Everton.

I’d love to say I know the formula to winning these games, but I don’t, as the loss at Everton was the one we went into in the best form, and only needed a point which we were expected to get.

That relegation was the only one I experienced at Sunderland, but it still rankles for so many reasons, not least because I felt we had a good young team, which if built on correctly could have flourished.

The two wins against Liverpool and Man City were games where the pressure was enormous, maybe I felt it more because I was older, but we dug in and got the results which kept us in the top flight.

What that experience taught me is when you’re in the bottom three and desperate to get out of it, to have any chance of survival, you need a united dressing room and a good team spirit.

Everybody must be in it together, nobody can be above anybody else or feel the results don’t apply to them.

The pressure and the tension for both players and fans is only going to increase for this rest of the season, but it’s not as if we all haven’t been here before.

It’s been going on for years.