O’Neill: Sunderland are in a fight to beat the drop

Sunderland's manager Martin O'Neill.
Sunderland's manager Martin O'Neill.
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MARTIN O’NEILL admits Sunderland are in a relegation battle as Christmas beckons.

But he insists so is every other team in the league, apart from the established Premier League giants.

O’Neill’s Sunderland side head into the festive programme with the club in an uncomfortable position having played more games than they have points (17 games; 16 points).

That programme begins on Saturday against the team just below them in the league, Southampton (17 games; 15 points) and he does not deny that the battle between the 16th and 17th-placed sides has to be seen as a six-pointer.

But he says that many of the teams above Sunderland are in no position to relax and cannot consider themselves out of it until it becomes a statistical fact.

“You look at the league table at the moment and teams in the bottom half have no breathing space,” he said. “Neither the teams above us nor the teams below us.

“That’s the reality of the Premier League these days.

“There’s only about half-a-dozen side who can start any one season feeling there’s going to be absolutely no danger of the drop.

“I’m talking about your Man Uniteds and Man Citys, Arsenals and Chelseas.

“They and a few others know that they don’t realistically have to worry about the possibility of relegation.

“But for the rest of us, the bulk of the Premier League, and a few of the teams currently in the top half of the table, it’s not something we can rely on.

“It’s all about getting points on the board, about getting to that safety mark where you absolutely know you’re not going down.

“Until you get to that point, you can’t talk about breathing sighs of relief when you get a good result or two.

“We got a good result against Reading the other, but we need more and as soon as possible because we’re like many other clubs in this division who can take nothing for granted.”

After Southampton, Sunderland face Manchester City on Boxing Day, Spurs on December 29 and Liverpool on January 2 and while O’Neill appreciates the difficulties facing his men in those fixtures, he wants them to look at gaining something from the games.

“The matches are exceptionally tough for us,” he agreed.

“They are severe tests and if we are anywhere there or thereabouts after they’ve been played, then we’ll be happy because it will be easy to get dragged back into the bottom three for teams around the bottom over this period.

“But I think it is very important that we really try to take things from a difficult set of games.

“We have to see them as opportunities rather than something to be feared, games where we might pick up an unexpected point or two that will be a real help to us.

“By the turn of the year, we’ll have played Man City twice, we’ll have played Liverpool twice and also come through difficult away trips to Arsenal, Everton and Manchester United.

“There’ll be fixtures coming up where we might have more of a chance to pick up points, but I want us to forget about them for the moment.

“All we can think about is these few games ahead of us over the Christmas and New Year period.

“We have to look to go out and compete in every single one of them and look to put points on the board.”

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