GUS Poyet will head back to his former club Chelsea tomorrow with renewed belief that Sunderland might just pull off the impossible dream and survive this season.
A run of five successive defeats had dumped Sunderland to the bottom of the Barclays Premier League and left them cut adrift from safety.
But a fine performance and an unlucky defeat to Everton last weekend, followed by a fine performance and an unlucky draw against Manchester City, has lifted the mood in the camp.
In the wake of the 2-2 midweek result at the Etihad, which all but knocked City out of the title race, Poyet revealed: “The belief is back in the dressing room, so I’m really looking forward to Saturday and Chelsea – it’s a very, very important game to us.
“We came through the City game so well and got incredibly close to taking all three points.
“Conceding a goal so early in the game was a test for us – it was a moment to reflect upon the reactions of our players afterwards – but the way they reacted was great.
“I’m sure if I had been commentating on the game and saw Sunderland concede a goal after two minutes, I would have expected four, five or six – but I would have been wrong.
“At half-time, we were all asking how are we not winning this game?
“And that was pleasing because you are bottom-of-the-table Sunderland up against title-chasing Manchester City at the Etihad and you are 1-0 down, but the players are angry not to be winning because we didn’t make the most of the best three chances we’ve created in weeks!”
The point taken from the Etihad slightly improved Sunderland’s position at the foot of table.
They are now three points behind second-bottom Cardiff and six adrift of fourth-bottom Norwich City, with a game in hand on both.
But the fixtures are running out and Poyet knows that it will still take something of a miracle to save Sunderland this season.
“I don’t know if it is too little too late,” he said. “But I’m going to try.
“I think we have to win at least three games and hope for other results to go our way.
“But we can only look to the next game.
“We played an excellent game against Manchester City and almost got the win, so let’s try to put in another good effort against Chelsea.
“Why can’t we do well again? I think the players have taken great heart from our last two performances.”
It is bound to be an emotional return to Stamford Bridge for Poyet, who is still idolised by Blues fans.
He scored 36 goals in 105 games for the Londoners between 1997-2001 and still has a deep attachment to his former club, but all he cares about this weekend is seeing Sunderland maintain their recent improvement.
“For me? I want to see the team play,” he said.
“You can lose there – teams go there and lose five or six-nil – as they do at Man City.
“But we did not lose at City.
“And I remember, people said at the cup final that it would be nice for Sunderland to go there and not concede too many goals, but instead we went out and took the lead and were only beaten by two wonder goals.
“We are a team that believes in what we do and when it comes together on the pitch and everyone connects, we are a decent team.
“I know our league position doesn’t suggest that, but, on our day, we can be.”
* Don’t miss tomorrow night’s online Football Echo – available for free on this website – for our verdict on Chelsea v Sunderland, plus the biggest and best coverage of SAFC and the local football scene.