Do Sunderland play better when we’re fighting to get out of bottom three?

Lee Cattermole in action at Stoke
Lee Cattermole in action at Stoke
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It was a tale of two penalties as a textbook strike from the talismanic Jermain Defoe gave Sunderland a vital point in the fight for a survival.

Meanwhile, at St James’s Park, a meekly-struck effort from Yohan Cabaye gave Newcastle the chance to move out of the bottom three.

We’ve seen some heart-stopping relegation battles in the past but this one has the potential to be the most horrible.

It’s all about focus now for Sunderland. We’ve spoken on the podcast about The Lads turning up for every game and I think it would be harsh to suggest that they didn’t at Stoke on Saturday.

We were competitive and kept on battling, but we couldn’t show any of the quality that we’ve seen in recent weeks. We didn’t fulfil our potential in a drab encounter and that’s the most frustrating element of this weekend’s performance.

The bright spot is that without playing well, we still managed to get ourselves a point. We also probably should have had a penalty in the first half and Stoke’s opener was questionable. When you’re not at your best you need a bit of luck and that appeared to be in short supply at The Britannia.

After the game, Sam Allardyce suggested there might have been a few nerves creeping in to the squad. It’s understandable but a little worrying. This side have looked so mentally strong for a good few months and it would be a shame if we began to crumble at the most vital point in the battle to stay in the Premier League.

My colleague, Stephen Goldsmith, suggested we do a little better when we’re fighting to get out of the bottom three rather than stay out of it. Maybe there’s a little less pressure in some ways. Every time we get out of the bottom three, we seem to slip back in pretty quickly. So maybe there’s something in that?

As it stands we’re still in decent shape to get out of it and we need to time our exit from the bottom three to perfection. It doesn’t matter so much of you’re in there now, a point from safety with a game in hand. It matters if you’re there on May 15.

We’ve got three massive games in two weeks and we need to make absolutely sure we approach those games looking to win. We’re tough to beat but we need to start converting some of the draws into wins.

If we can show the intensity and desire we have shown in the next fortnight it’s going to be difficult for our opposition to match it. But as we saw at Stoke, we must show our quality on the ball to capitalise on that effort otherwise it could all be for nothing.

We must put Saturday behind us and look forward to what should be a great occasion against Chelsea next weekend. Saturday’s disappointment has already worn off and I’m looking forward to next week’s game again. That’s testament to just how well this Sunderland side have competed recently and I don’t think they’ll let us down in the coming weeks.

This side should be playing in the Premier League next season and I believe they’ll do everything they can to earn that opportunity.