GUS Poyet says Sunderland’s survival bid will live or die by the mentality of players who appear to wilt under the pressure of playing against the teams around them at the bottom of the table.
But, after Saturday’s amazing win at Chelsea, he has pledged to find a solution to that problem as the season enters its final and most critical phase.
The Black Cats have turned in a trio of terrific performances against the Premier League’s leading lights in the last 10 days to give themselves hope of beating the drop.
They were good against Everton and excellent against Manchester City and they capped it off with a stunning away victory at Chelsea to take four points from nine and put themselves back into contention for the Great Escape.
But Poyet says Sunderland’s season will be decided now, not by how good they are at giant-killing but how they perform against the lesser lights.
Should Sunderland win their remaining home games against Cardiff City, West Brom and Swansea City – all three teams in the bottom half of the table – they will stay up.
But that could be a big ask of a team which has time and time again failed to overcome their relegation rivals.
Poyet knows that trend has to change in the last few weeks of a fascinating campaign if the Black Cats are to genuinely prosper.
“Every time we play the top teams we play well, but not the bottom ones,” he acknowledged as he basked in the glow of victory over his former side on Saturday night.
“Why is it that we do well against the best sides and not the rest?” he continued.
“I would think it is probably because against the top teams, we accept we are the smaller team.
“And because we accept that, we feel no pressure in those games and we play our very best football.
“But against the others, the ones around us, the pressure is on us and we find that a challenge.
“It is a problem and it something we need to address.”
The Uruguayan, though, has been heartened by the way his side has shown the mental strength to overcome setbacks and challenges in recent weeks.
“The good thing in these last couple of games – against Man City and Chelsea – is that we have kept on going when things were not going for us,” he said.
“We have been strong when we needed to be strong and we have to keep that going.
“Next week we play Cardiff and mentality is the key.
“The strongest side mentally are the ones that win the league, but you need that mental strength at the bottom too, when you are fighting for your lives, and I want us to have that strength in our final few games.”