Sam Allardyce believes Sunderland will take themselves to the brink of safety IF they record mammoth victories over relegation rivals Newcastle and Norwich in the next month.
Sunderland would open up a four-point gap with Newcastle – while boasting a superior goal difference – if they emerge victorious from tomorrow’s St James’s Park showdown and record a seventh successive victory over the Magpies.
But fresh derby glory alone won’t keep Sunderland in the Premier League, with Allardyce’s side facing another seismic clash in the battle against the drop next month at Norwich, who travel to West Brom today.
With the relegation battle now realistically a case of two from three sides to join Aston Villa in the Championship, Allardyce knows that the meetings against Sunderland’s relegation fight peers will be pivotal.
He said: “If you can beat your nearest rivals, that’s going to take you out of the problem. Then, when you play the rest of the teams, you can pick up a point here and there.
“If you can beat your rivals, you are either three points closer to them or further on than them.
“It does look like it’s going to be only one of us out of three because unless Swansea or Crystal Palace have a disaster in terms of their results, it’s going to be difficult to catch them.”
Even if Sunderland come away empty-handed this weekend, the Black Cats will be only two points adrift of Newcastle.
But Allardyce believes that the victors tomorrow will have a major psychological boost heading into the final eight games.
“If you are the team that loses, you have eight games to go and you are probably going to have to win four of those – and get a couple of draws – to get past the 38 point mark,” he said.
“And you have to hope that the others don’t win as many as you do, because that’s the only way you will get safe.
“Mathematically you can still do it, but the odds get bigger and bigger due to the fact of how many games you have to win.
“That’s why over the next nine games we have to put our best winning run of the season together to get out of trouble.”
Victory for Sunderland tomorrow would also deny new Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez the chance to generate momentum from his appointment at St James’s Park last week.
Allardyce says that objective won’t play any part in Sunderland’s preparations, but it will be a fringe benefit if they do make it seven-in-a-row.
“Yes, it dampens the enthusiasm that the new manager brings,” he added.
“But I don’t think that factor comes into play on the morning of the game and we are getting ready for a local derby that’s massively important for both sides – both for the position we are in, and for the supporters.”