Sam Allardyce is ruing the precarious one-point margin that Sunderland have with relegation rivals Newcastle heading into the Tyne-Wear derby.
Sunderland moved a point clear of both 19th placed Newcastle and 18th placed Norwich with their 1-1 draw at Southampton on Saturday, yet the Black Cats would have boasted a healthier buffer if they had held on to claim all three points on the south coast.
Victory would have guaranteed that Sunderland lay ahead of Newcastle in the Tyne-Wear derby on Sunday, March 20 – and potentially even after the final whistle – with the Black Cats not in action next weekend and the Magpies travelling to Premier League leaders Leicester in seven days.
But after Sunderland were pegged back in stoppage time at St Mary’s, the spoils for the victors in the derby are huge, with at least one of the North East rivals now looking destined for relegation.
“I’d have liked to be going into that game having got three points at Southampton,” said Allardyce.
“I don’t know what Newcastle are going to do at Leicester next week when we’re not playing.
“But if we’d got the three points at Southampton, then they couldn’t have caught us.
“Now whoever wins that game will go ahead and we’ve got to make sure we’re winners in it again.”
Virgil van Dijk’s 93rd minute equaliser again left Allardyce cursing Sunderland’s inability to register a clean sheet after falling short of a first shut-out since November.
Up to that point, Sunderland had defended doggedly and saw Vito Mannone produce a string of excellent saves whenever Southampton did have a chance.
Allardyce made no defence of Sunderland’s surrender of what would have been two invaluable points and blames a lack of concentration at the make-or-break moments.
“We know we’ve let ourselves down and thrown two points away,” he added.
“But we’ve got to take the overall picture of the way we’re performing and believe it will turn into victories for us.
“With just a little bit more nous in our box – marking a player, stopping that cross, stopping that opportunity – we will start getting three points.
“It’s those little things we’ve got to take care of at certain stages.
“And, somewhere along the line, we’ll need a bit of luck.
“Instead of going in the net, it (van Dijk’s equaliser) could have easily flown wide or hit the post. Then you get away with one and breathe a sigh of relief.
“Unfortunately for us, it didn’t.
“We’ve only ourselves to blame, but there’s a lot of positives in how we’re playing at the moment.
“We’ve got to turn positive performances into results and more points.
“We have to make sure the players do the right thing in those crucial moments, particularly the defenders.
“The opposition go gung-ho and say we’ve got nothing to lose now. It’s the last minute and they throw everyone forwards.
“Our concentration is marking all those players that they throw forwards and making sure they don’t get the space that we allowed them to get.”