Sam Allardyce issues message to Sunderland squad
Sunderland's hopes of breaking the annual cycle of relegation woe will rest on the opening five games of the new Premier League campaign.
That is the view of Sam Allardyce, who insists the opening weeks of the season are the most important in setting the tone for what is to come.
When Allardyce succeeded Dick Advocaat in the Stadium of Light hotseat last October, Sunderland were 19th in the Premier League, five points from safety.
The Black Cats had picked up just three points from their opening eight league fixtures, with draws against Swansea City, Aston Villa and West Ham United - Advocaat's last game in charge.
Sunderland's first three points of 2015-16 didn't come until October 25, the 3-0 win over Newcastle United in Allardyce's first home game in charge.
It is an all-too familiar pattern for Sunderland - who never climbed higher than 17th last season - and one the manager insists must change.
Allardyce, set to oversee a major summer overhaul of his squad, is desperate to avoid the struggles of last season as he looks to turn the club into a more stable Premier League outfit, competing far higher up the table.
"I wouldn’t want to go through what I went through when I first got here," said Allardyce.
"You would strive very hard to make sure our first five games are our most important next year.
"The challenge to the team that starts next season - whatever we do recruitment wise, business wise, player wise - is that the team starts off by winning two or three of the first five, not losing them which they have done for the last four seasons.
"If you lose those games, you know then it always becomes the inevitable relegation struggle.
"If you do not win any of the first five, what a struggle it becomes after that."