Chris Coleman: The uplifting end to my Oakwell trip and why there’s four teams in the relegation scrap

Sunderland manager Chris Coleman. Picture by Frank Reid.
Sunderland manager Chris Coleman. Picture by Frank Reid.
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Chris Coleman was sitting in the Oakwell stand on Tuesday night as Oli McBurnie left his survival hopes hanging by a thread.

For a short while, it looked as if Sunderland would be cut seven points adrift of safety.

To Coleman’s relief, Josh Murphy scored an equaliser for Norwich, but, with Hull City securing another impressive win, the gap at the bottom of the table is widening.

Coleman believes it is now four teams – Sunderland, Burton Albion, Birmingham City and Barnsley – fighting for one spot.

The Tykes face Millwall at lunchtime today, and Coleman admits he will have a close eye on the game.

Should Barnsley win then Sunderland will be eight points away from safety when they kick off against Preston North End at 3pm.

With a two-week break on the horizon, Coleman is desperate to turn up the pressure.

He said: “I can’t see anyone else getting sucked into it. I think there’s four of us chasing that one spot. I think those are the teams in the fight.

“I’ll be looking at the Millwall game.

“I went to watch the Norwich game because we’ve got them coming up. Kit (Symons) and I drove down.

“They scored just before half-time and I said to Kit, ‘what is it with us?!’ That minute before half-time, we either concede or someone around us scores. We were a bit downbeat, but Norwich came back, which was uplifting in itself.

“It could have been worse.

“If we win and they lose, at least the gap is down to two points and people around us will not be so comfortable, and people react differently under pressure.

“We have to put ourselves in a position where the teams above us can see that we are not dead and buried. That puts them under pressure.

“At the moment, we are not putting teams under pressure – and they are there to be put under pressure – so we have to change that.

“Barnsley will be thinking this is a huge opportunity. Let’s hope they don’t take it and we can put some pressure on them. We have to take care of our own business though.”

Preston – visiting the Stadium of Light – have proved a tough nut to crack for Championship teams this season, with Alex Neil’s side losing just three times on the road.

They have also drawn eight games, but Coleman knows that one point will not be enough for Sunderland.

“That won’t be enough. We need to get the three points – it is obvious,” he said. “They need the points for different reasons, so they’ll be fighting.

“It is a crazy league.

“We play QPR and, no disrespect to them, we didn’t come off thinking they were the best team in the league, then they go and beat Aston Villa 3-1. That’s the league.

“I sit here every week, I say the same things, but I haven’t lost heart because I know what happens in football – a team can come from nowhere. That has to be us.”