MARTIN O’Neill admits Sunderland cannot “breathe easily” until they have amassed 40 points.
Sunderland head to basement boys QPR tomorrow still harbouring lingering relegation fears after taking just two points from their last five Premier League encounters.
Yet the Black Cats still lie closer to the top half of the table than the bottom three, with just three points separating them from 10th placed Fulham, compared to the six-point buffer with the relegation zone.
O’Neill is keen to take encouragement from Sunderland’s proximity to the top 10, but he is wary of what is happening below the Wearsiders.
“We’re in a position with a group of clubs, some of which have gained a couple of points on us recently and moved to 32 and 33,” he said.
“At this minute, 33 points is occupying 10th position so there are things to look forward to.
“But at the same time, we have to be mindful, and until you get those points on the board, I don’t think you can breathe easily.
“Naturally I would have liked to have picked up a couple of extra points over the last five games. But it doesn’t matter how you feel you’ve done.
“I don’t think we should have been beaten in any of the games, but it doesn’t matter; we have done.
“An extra point or two in the table, and that would have counted for a great deal.
“As it is, we’re still looking over our shoulder, as is the case for many sides, even though we’re only three points off the top 10.
“That shows you how tight the whole situation is.”
O’Neill admits this weekend’s encounter at Loftus Road is a “big game” after QPR were given renewed hope in the survival battle with victory at fellow strugglers Southampton last weekend.
But the Sunderland manager hopes the Black Cats can take heart from last year’s win at Loftus Road, where Wes Brown’s late header secured a 3-2 win, and created three points of breathing space with the drop zone.
O’Neill added: “Queen’s Park Rangers will obviously be buoyed by their win at Southampton, and will feel they have a proper chance of staying up.
“We just have to get that requisite number of points on the board.
“But it’s a big game tomorrow.
“It was a great win for us down there last year just before Christmas last season, particularly with Wes Brown scoring so late on.
“We almost had to win it twice after being 2-0 up and being pegged back to 2-2.”