Sunderland are facing the “most important” Tyne-Wear derby in a generation, with the two North East rivals now in a three-way battle for Premier League survival.
Sam Allardyce’s men moved a point clear of Norwich and second bottom Newcastle after Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Southampton, yet were left utterly dejected after a 93rd minute leveller from ex-transfer target Virgil van Dijk denied them a healthier safety buffer.
With fellow strugglers Bournemouth and Swansea both winning on Saturday, the bottom four clubs are now cut well adrift of the rest, with only one of Sunderland, Newcastle or Norwich looking capable of avoiding joining doomed basement boys Aston Villa in the Championship.
Sunderland defender Younes Kaboul concedes that the relegation fight is now a case of three from four and agrees that the Black Cats’ next outing at St James’s Park in a fortnight could be the most significant derby day for years.
Kaboul told the Echo: “There’s some important games left and the one coming is the most important for the fans, and for us also.
“We have to be ready for the derby day and show we can win.
“Both clubs and both cities live for this game, and we have to make sure we give everything for the fans because they really deserve it.
“It definitely looks like three from four now.
“It’s us, Newcastle and Norwich, and Villa of course.
“We have to make sure that we play like we did at Southampton.”
Kaboul was unable to mask his disappointment after 10-man Southampton grabbed a share of the spoils at the death, just as Sunderland were heading for victory and a first clean sheet since November.
Sunderland had defended doggedly up to that point, albeit they were indebted to several superb saves from Vito Mannone, and went ahead with five minutes to go when substitute Jermain Defoe netted.
But Sunderland’s players were disconsolate at the final whistle, with Kaboul admitting they would ideally like a quick-fire game to get the draw out of their system, rather than waiting a fortnight for their next run-out.
“As a defender, you play for the clean sheets and at Southampton, we had the chance to finish the game 1-0,” added Kaboul
“But we didn’t.
“I’m really disappointed right now, but I’ll be OK in the next couple of days.
“I’d rather play straightaway because you want to repeat what we did at Southampton, but we haven’t got that chance.
“Of course, it’s mentally challenging after a result like that.
“But we have to make sure that we’re ready for the Newcastle game and put the Southampton one behind us.
“One point above the relegation zone is not enough from the way we played at Southampton.
“We showed desire, a good mentality and had some good spells.
“Clearly, we deserved the win because we were better all over the pitch, and it feels so bad that we didn’t.
“But we have to recover now.
“There’s no game next weekend and then there’s a crucial one against Newcastle in two weeks.”