CRAIG GARDNER admits tomorrow’s basement scrap with Southampton is a “six-pointer”.
The fourth bottom Saints lie just a point adrift of Sunderland in the precarious area immediately above the relegation zone, with only goal difference separating last year’s Championship runners-up from third bottom Wigan.
The magnitude of tomorrow’s clash at St Mary’s is only heightened by Sunderland’s following two games, with the Black Cats hosting top four outfits Manchester City and Spurs.
Gardner is well aware of the stakes this weekend, but says Sunderland must follow the successful recipe from last week’s victory against basement boys Reading.
“Every game is a big one when you need points, especially at Southampton who are just one point below us,” said the 26-year-old.
“It’s a massive game, a six-pointer if you like.
“Southampton came up last season and obviously going into the Premiership is tough.
“But they’re a good club with a good following and they’re a hard-working team.
“I wouldn’t say there’s less pressure on us away from home. But the table doesn’t lie, we need to get results.
“We just need to start off well like we did against Reading.”
Gardner insists Sunderland’s spirit has not been dimmed by their worries in the relegation dogfight despite four defeats from their last six games.
The former Birmingham City man points to last weekend’s 3-1 loss at Manchester United as an example of Sunderland’s tenacity, when Martin O’Neill’s men could easily have folded after finding themselves three goals down in an hour.
Gardner said: “We obviously need to win tomorrow, but we’ve got enough because the spirit in the dressing room is still really high.
“The lads are all behind each other. We’ve got that attitude that we won’t give up.
“Anybody else would have folded at Man United, but we didn’t.
“We got a goal back and had three or four where it rolled across the line and it just needed someone to tap it in.
“If we weren’t creating chances and were getting beat three or four nil, then there’s a big problem.
“But we are creating chances, we just need to take them.”
Meanwhile, Gardner insists he will happily return to right-back tomorrow, if called upon by Sunderland boss O’Neill.
Carlos Cuellar covered for the injured Phil Bardsley at full-back at Old Trafford, but Danny Rose’s potential return from the treatment table could see Gardner switched from his favoured midfield role.
“I played midfield at Man U and hopefully can stay there,” he said.
“But the gaffer knows if he needs me to do a job anywhere, I’ll get on with it, that’s my job.
“He knows I prefer midfield, but with Bardo being injured, he knows I’ll do a job anywhere for the team.”