Sunderland must win key battles at bottom to stay up

Wes Brown battles for the ball against Aston Villa
Wes Brown battles for the ball against Aston Villa
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Sam Allardyce expects Sunderland’s fate in the relegation battle to be decided by the outcome of their tussles with fellow relegation contenders.

Sunderland held their nerve in a must-win basement battle with Aston Villa last weekend, but they face another of the sides lingering alongside them at the wrong end of the table, when they head to fourth bottom Swansea City next week, after this Saturday’s FA Cup third round tie at Arsenal.

If you get two wins a season, if you’re in our position, then you’re working a bit of a miracle.

Two of Sunderland’s four victories this season have been against bottom three peers Newcastle and Aston Villa, yet they have come away empty-handed from meetings against fellow relegation contenders Bournemouth, Norwich, Southampton and West Brom.

If Sunderland are to preserve their Premier League existence, then Allardyce believes they must triumph in the nerve-jangling battles at the wrong end of the table, with any points against the top flight’s heavyweights considered a bonus.

“It’s not rocket science to know that if you’re going to get out of trouble, you’ve got to take the points off the teams around you more than the bigger sides,” said Allardyce.

“Come Swansea next week, after a ridiculously short period of time after Arsenal in the cup, we’ve got to get ready for that.

“Against the bigger sides, it’s much more difficult.

“If you get two wins a season, if you’re in our position, then you’re working a bit of a miracle.

“Those are your bonus points that can help an awful lot in getting you out of trouble.

“But the pressure is constantly on you in this position and we have to accept that because it’s our fault.”

Allardyce’s main focus is on the Swansea clash, with the Sunderland boss expected to wring the changes against Arsenal for the first of three away games in the space of eight days - including a debut for homegrown goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

The Sunderland boss has been concerned about his players suffering burn-out from a hectic period, with first-team regulars given extra time off earlier this week.

But Allardyce believes the players are equally aware that they need to be as fresh as possible for a defining period in Sunderland’s season.

“The staff are working very hard in helping the lads recover,” he said.

“But a few of our lads wanted to get in the cryotherapy unit (ice bath) before the Villa game because they thought it would help.

“We’ve had it with us for most of the Christmas period and I’m very pleased that they said it might make them feel a bit better and give them a bit more energy.

“We’re trying in all areas to give them the tools to get out of trouble.”