Former Sunderland boss Denis Smith has backed the Black Cats in the survival race, ahead of tomorrow’s clash at his beloved Stoke City.
Sunderland can guarantee another week spent outside of the relegation zone if they triumph at the Britannia Stadium tomorrow - and inflict a fourth successive loss on the Potters in the process.
They are playing well at the moment and looking like the ones most likely to avoid the dropDenis Smith
Smith - who successfully took Sunderland from the old Third Division to the top flight during his four-and-a-half years on Wearside - remains a die-hard Stoke fan after more than 400 appearances for his hometown club.
But with Sunderland narrowly ahead of relegation rivals Norwich and Newcastle in the drop battle, he believes Sam Allardyce’s men will prevail in their bid to remain in the Premier League.
“I really do think Sunderland are the ones most likely to survive down there because they are playing well and their remaining fixtures after Stoke aren’t too bad,” he said.
“I had five good years up there, liked the people and had a good time. It’s still one of the first results I look for.
“Sam Allardyce has got them organised and solid, so they’re difficult to break down, but they also have pace going forward and in Jermain Defoe they’ve always got a goal threat.
“They are playing well at the moment and looking like the ones most likely to avoid the drop.
“And now they have Sam as manager they can break the cycle of struggling every season if they do stay up.
“He understands the league and the kind of players you need to survive. You need a hardcore of British-based players in the team and he will do that.”
Stoke have conceded four goals in each of three successive defeats, with Mark Hughes’ men winning only one of their last seven outings.
And Smith believes a combination of injuries and fatigue have conspired to send Stoke down the table and end their outside prospects of a top six spot.
“Obviously the injuries haven’t helped, with those to Ryan Shawcross and Jack Butland being the major ones,” he added.
“Ryan hasn’t been as dominant as he usually is in terms of pulling other people around to get them organised and doing other people’s jobs.
“That’s because he’s having to look after himself at the moment. That happens when you’ve been out injured and you have to then get yourself going. But he will be back.
“I think another factor is that the Premier League is a hard league. Players like (Xherdan) Shaqiri and (Gianelli) Imbula would be used to a couple of hard games and then plenty of easier ones, but this league is a constant, a grind.”