GUS Poyet is relieved to have finally hit upon the successful team system needed to ensure Sunderland are all but certain to avoid the drop.
The Black Cats’ boss tinkered with formation and personnel virtually on a weekly basis after taking over the club in October as he strove to find a winning formula.
But that has changed in recent week and, for the fourth game in a row at the weekend, he fielded the same starting XI and was rewarded with yet another superb display and result, as Sunderland won 1-0 at Manchester United.
His only worry after finding a team that clicked was would it still have enough time to save Sunderland’s season?
“Have I always thought we would stay up?” he wondered.
“I have to be realistic – we knew we were getting better, we knew the side was improving, knew it was getting there, but we weren’t getting breaks.
“We didn’t get the penalty against West Ham, we scored an own goal against Everton, we missed the target from three yards out against Crystal Palace – it just wasn’t going our way.
“So we needed something special to come from the squad and thankfully they raised their game and produced it.”
That something special has been created by a number of factors.
But the most clear and obvious one is the successful return of Connor Wickham to the side – the 21-year-old being last month’s leading goalscorer in the top flight on his way to winning the Barclays Premier League Player of the Month award for April.
Wickham provided the cross from right next to the corner flag for Seb Larsson’s winner at Old Trafford.
“Connor has given us belief that we can win because he scores goals,” said Sunderland’s head coach.
“We have defended in an incredible manner in our last four games and when you defend well and find a player, like Connor, who is scoring goals you are going to win games.
“I think a player of Connor’s physique and ability can go as far in the game as he wants. We can help him, but it is up to him.
“He has had niggles over the last week and we knew it would be hard for him to go through the whole United game, but he set up the goal and did well until making way in the second half.”
Poyet, though, pointed out that Sunderland are no one-man band and that the win at Old Trafford was a real team effort.
“There are moments in a game that test you and in this game, for us, it was when Danny Welbeck and Robin Van Persie came on with 20 minutes to go and we were tired,” added the Uruguayan.
“Somehow we were going to have to defend and deal with them – that’s what we did.
“It’s the ugly side of football, but we fought for our lives with the back four and the wide players tracking back for us.
“You need to believe.
“If you give your all and try your best, that’s good enough, even if you don’t win.
“But it might even have been a more comfortable win for us because Jozy Altidore and Emanuele Giaccherini came on and were outstanding for us.
“Now, on Wednesday at the Stadium of Light (when West Brom visit), we want to win and stay up and celebrate with the fans.
“It would be crazy if we did not stay up now.”