SUNDERLAND will need their ‘12th man’ at the Stadium of Light tonight to have their best chance of winning an absolutely crucial game, says Carlos Cuellar.
The Spanish centre-half was inspired by the noise and passion generated by more than 40,000 home supporters in the exciting 1-0 win over Everton – Sunderland’s last on Wearside..
And he says a repeat this evening would give Sunderland their best possible opportunity of claiming three points which would all but make the Black Cats safe.
“The fans were fantastic in the Everton game,” said the centre-half.
“I think that game was one of the best I’ve played in at Sunderland – it was also fantastic in terms of the atmosphere and the support we had from the fans.
“Sometimes I think the people don’t realise how important they are, because when you hear them behind you like they were behind us against Everton, you find reserves of energy you did not know you had.
“They give you energy.
“I remember that in the Everton game and I felt I too when we beat Man City at our place.
“That roar, that backing gives you extra power. You feel more connected to them.
“You can feel it in the warm-up. You can feel how the fans are going to be. And that’s why it is important for us to start well and make sure we get them behind us.
“We need that. We are professional – we will always try our best – but hearing your supporters roaring you on will always bring that extra one or two per cent out of you and sometimes that makes all the difference.
“I know it is difficult for the fans to have that Everton feeling again after the Villa game. But they have to know that if the players feel that support and feeling, they will play better.
“They are so important to us in that situation. They are going to have an influence on that game.”
And what a game it is.
Defeat would leave Sunderland in desperate trouble at the foot of the Premier League table in one of the closest relegation battles in years.
A draw would not be a disaster – allowing them to leapfrog Newcastle and Norwich and stay three points ahead of Wigan, who would have a game in hand but a poorer goal difference.
Victory for the Wearsiders, though, would take them to the magic 40 point mark – usually the benchmark needed for Premier League safety – and by virtue of their goal difference, put them in a much stronger position, as Cuellar knows all too well.
“Stoke is one of the most important games of our season – no question – so much is now riding on it,” said the 31-year-old.
“If we win, we may not be automatically safe, but in our minds we will be, because 40 points with our goal difference - well, if we are not 100 per cent safe, then it will be something like 99 per cent.”