CRAIG GARDNER has backed Saturday’s opponents QPR to emerge victorious in their battle to avoid the drop.
But Gardner is still confident that Sunderland can halt the basement boys’ momentum by preventing Harry Redknapp’s side recording back-to-back victories for the first time this season.
Last weekend’s win at Southampton moved QPR to within four points of safety after securing only a third Premier League success of the campaign.
QPR had just four points from 10 games when Redknapp succeeded Mark Hughes at the Loftus Road helm and had only managed a further six points by Christmas.
Yet the victory over their fellow strugglers has prompted renewed optimism of what would be a remarkable escape from the depths of the relegation zone.
Sunderland right-back Gardner believes QPR can now indeed succeed, even if he is desperate for the Black Cats to burst the bubble in West London this weekend.
Former Birmingham and Aston Villa man Gardner told the Echo: “QPR had a good result at the weekend and they want to get off the bottom of the league, but we want to get points on the board too.
“To be honest, I think they will get out of it. They are a strong team and they have got a good manager.
“If they keep on getting results, they will feel they can get out of it.
“Hopefully we can put a dent in their plans, though.
“Harry Redknapp went in there and obviously the players thought ‘we need to sort ourselves out here’.
“And after being well adrift at one stage, they have started to pick up some results and now the gap is only four points.
“They are a solid team all over the pitch and they have a lot of experience.
“But if we are at the races and we perform like we can, I can’t see us losing.”
Sunderland have lingering concerns of their own after a five-game winless streak, albeit they can still boast a healthy six-point buffer over the bottom three.
But while Gardner acknowledges Sunderland’s precarious position, the 26-year-old is looking up, with the Black Cats one of five teams separated by just three points, all vying for 10th spot.
Gardner added: “We don’t want to be thinking ‘are we going to be safe’, although maybe we have to do that right now.
“We want to be trying to get into the top half of the table.
“We just need to keep on going. We are only three points away from 10th place and if we can keep on grinding out results, and picking up points, then hopefully we can still finish in the top 10.
“We don’t want to be looking over our shoulders any more, we want to be looking up.”
QPR first-team coach Joe Jordan believes this month will be crucial to the Londoners’ hopes of beating the drop – with the Sunderland game followed on March 16 by a potentially pivotal showdown with relegation rivals Aston Villa.
“We know we’ve got a huge task on our hands over the last 10 games of the season,” former Tottenham and Portsmouth coach Jordan said.
“March will be a crucial month – it’s vitally important we do well this month.
“There are fixtures coming up against teams in a similar position to us in the table.
“That gives us an opportunity to not only put points on the board ourselves, but also to stop those around us.
“But we aren’t looking any further ahead than Sunderland.
“That’s our next game and the only one we’re focusing on right now.
“It’s going to be a very, very tough game and one we’ll need to be at our best at if we want to get back-to-back wins.
“We’ll need to maintain our performance levels from the weekend and take our chances.”
Rangers secured a goalless draw in their last meeting with Sunderland at the Stadium of Light back in November, as Harry Redknapp’s reign began in positive fashion for the Loftus Road side.