COSTEL PANTILIMON says now is the time when Sunderland have to show their mettle after falling into the relegation zone for only the second time this season.
Despite a much-improved show of commitment in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Stoke City, Sunderland find themselves worryingly perched in the bottom three after wins for fellow strugglers Leicester and Hull left Dick Advocaat’s side a point adrift of safety.
If we get the points we need, then we’ll be okay. It’s simple.
The drop zone has largely been unfamiliar territory for Sunderland in a season of toil, with the Black Cats previously spending just a week on the precipice to the Championship, prior to November’s win at Crystal Palace.
Goalkeeper Pantilimon – who secured a draw at the Britannia Stadium with two outstanding late saves – admits it’s not a pleasant feeling to be lingering in the bottom three with just five games to go, and he knows Sunderland cannot rely on other teams doing them any favours in the battle for top-flight survival.
Pantilimon told the Echo: “It’s tough falling into the relegation zone, it’s not easy. But this is the moment where you have to come good.
“I hope when the season is finished to still be in the Premier League.
“We have to only think about us, not to see what the rest do.
“If we get the points we need, then we’ll be okay. It’s simple.”
The victories for Leicester and Hull at Burnley and Crystal Palace respectively took the gloss of what was a hard-fought draw at Stoke, which would have been even better had Connor Wickham, Jermain Defoe or Billy Jones converted the second-half chances which came their way.
But after Sunderland had netted just three times in their previous eight Premier League outings, it was encouraging for Pantilimon to see his team-mates creating opportunities.
“It was important to take some points there,” said the Romanian.
“The most important thing was we played well and created chances.
“It’s a good point, in my opinion.
“Both teams had chances to win it and I think we can do the same in the home games.
“We’ve started to improve our game and I hope it will be the same against Southampton next weekend.
“For our confidence, it’s good to see us playing well in that second half.”
It could have been even worse for Sunderland too, had Pantilimon not produced two superb stops to deny Mame Diouf and then Charlie Adam from earning maximum points for the Potters.
“All the time, I try to help the team,” added the ex-Manchester City man.
“We are in a difficult moment, and we can only get through it together.
“There’s a good spirit and good team-work, and that’s the most important thing for the last games.”