NEDUM Onuoha insists the R word was never seriously up for discussion – even during the depths of Sunderland’s descent down the table.
Last weekend’s victory over Wigan Athletic ended Sunderland’s four-month wait to creep over the magical 40-point mark and virtually vanquished any fears of relegation.
The concern at being dragged into the dogfight was an increasingly real one during a harrowing run of eight defeats in nine games, which had sucked Sunderland into the bottom half of the table.
But Onuoha believes there was always a quiet confidence in the Sunderland camp while their fate remained in their own hands.
The on-loan Manchester City defender insists the challenge for Sunderland now is to ensure the campaign does not meander away into mediocrity.
Onuoha told the Echo: “There was no real talk of relegation at all because the position we were in was a lot better than people who were already down there.
“Our season was in our own hands rather than having to rely on other people.
“There’s been quite a few players who’ve been in and out, like me, who’ve not played in all the games, so you don’t really feel like you’re on a losing run either.
“And we are a confident bunch of people, even though the statistics don’t lie.
“We can’t be complacent now, though, because we could finish really well or peter away, which we don’t want to do.
“We should be thinking it’s three wins to finish in the top 10 rather than just one win to be safe and avoid what’s going on behind us.
“We just have to win as many games as we can now.
“It was always the target to finish in the top half – win as many games as possible and see where that takes us, even though we’ve been on this negative run.
“But winning should give people a more positive frame of mind and we can take that into each game.”
Sunderland’s barren run has not been easy on Black Cats supporters either – with sections of the crowd beginning to direct their anger towards boss Steve Bruce.
But the noise from the terraces ensured Sunderland were never plagued by anxiety against Wigan Athletic – a factor not lost on Onuoha.
“It was tough mentally, but the supporters didn’t go to the Stadium of Light to see us lose,” added the 24-year-old.
“Even though we knew there was pressure, with them behind us, I knew we’d be all right.
“They hadn’t seen a win at home in a while, but then they saw four goals without a striker on the pitch!”