Crystal Palace’s descent down the Premier League table to the fringes of the relegation dogfight has Alan Pardew looking over his shoulder.
Last week, the Palace manager revealed that talks over a new contract at Selhurst Park had been put on ice until his side reached the magical 40-point mark, with the Eagles unable to take a step closer to that target after a 3-2 loss at West Brom on Saturday night.
At his pre-match press conference yesterday, Pardew stressed that if Palace fail to win one of their two games this week against Sunderland and Liverpool, then they will be firmly in the mix to suffer the drop.
But Pardew’s opposite number tonight, Sam Allardyce, does NOT believe that Palace are involved in the relegation dogfight.
While Palace have registered just a solitary point from their last eight Premier League outings, they still have a comfortable buffer with the relegation zone thanks to their form during the first half of the campaign.
Pardew’s men are eight points clear of third-bottom Norwich, with Sunderland boss Allardyce convinced that it’s three teams from the six below the south London outfit who will fall into the Championship.
Allardyce told the Echo: “No, I didn’t think they’re in it.
“I’m sure Alan will do.
“I read last week that there was a new contract on offer and he won’t sign it until they’re safe.
“But I’d love to be in his position going into tonight’s game.
“Not winning for 10 games is not unusual for a team in the Premier League, but the expectation he built at the start of the season, reflects on you.
“It’s a bit like me at West Ham last season. You wonder whether you should have the poor start and have the flourish at the end, so everyone praises you in the close season.
“But it’s that good start which is so important to your season. It gets you beyond where you want to finish sometimes.
“Alan’s got enough points in the bag, even though he’ll be very disappointed, to keep him away from that relegation zone.”
The vulnerability stemming from Palace’s slump was brutally exposed at West Brom after the visitors were trailing 3-0 with just 31 minutes on the clock.
Although a second half double from ex-Sunderland striker Connor Wickham clawed Palace back into contention, Pardew’s side were unable to overcome their first half deficit.
Allardyce believes Sunderland must follow the Baggies’ example in striking the first blow against a confidence-stricken Palace side, particularly when there will be plenty of nerves inside the Stadium of Light for what promises to be a crucial game in the Black Cats’ bid to remain in the top flight.
“(Wickham) took the two goals very well, but unfortunately for him and Alan, they didn’t mean anything after being 3-1 down after 31 minutes,” added Allardyce.
“That’s where our encouragement comes from. Can we be as good as West Brom were in the first part of the game? Can we create an opportunity to get ourselves in front and then build on that?
“That’s going to be very important for our nerves. Not just the players’ nerves, but the fans too.
“We need to get the first goal to give everyone the comfort that we can go on and win the game.
“There’s no guarantee we will, but it makes everyone very nervous if we slip up and allow them to get the first goal because they are very good at defending what they already have, particularly away from home with the system they play.”