GUS Poyet says the battle at the bottom of the Premier League is now a mental, as well as physical contest.
And he says the team which holds its nerve the most has the greatest chance of survival as the season reaches its climax.
On Saturday, Sunderland failed to show the mental strength the head coach is demanding, as relegation rivals Norwich City eased past opponents who never looked at the races.
And Poyet says that unless Sunderland can show the necessary desire and doggedness over the next 10 games, they will be doomed to the drop.
The Black Cats have taken just one point from their last two games against Crystal Palace and Norwich City, leaving Sunderland third-bottom and three points from safety.
But they have at least two games in hand of all their rivals as they head to Anfield tonight to face title contenders Liverpool.
And Poyet says it will be the teams that cope best with the pressure that will stay up.
“It is all about mentality and character now,” he told SportMail. “It’s not tactical, physical or anything like that.
“It will be the team that has the best mentality that will stay up.
“Of all the teams down at the bottom, we are all playing under the mental stress of fighting relegation for so long.
“It’s about who copes with it the best.
“The teams that cope with it the best, will get out of it.”
Beyond this current relegation battle, Poyet says in the long-term there has to be a change of mentality on Wearside which has seen battling against the drop becoming the norm, season after season.
Sunderland finished seventh two seasons in a row in the early noughties under Peter Reid.
But they failed to build on that success and have twice suffered embarrassing relegations
This is their seventh successive season in the Premier League, but only once in those seven campaigns have Sunderland NOT had to endure a relegation scrap.
Poyet said: “There is something, some underlying thing, that is always here.
“We need to find it and get away from it, because we seem to keep on taking a step forward, and then one or two back.
“It always seems to be the same. It’s not a new thing, it has been happening here for a while.
“It’s not the players – or the manager – who are here now, or anything like that, it has been happening for years.
“But it has happened to us just recently – this lack of consistency.
“Not many people noticed but the Sunderland team I played at Norwich was exactly the same as the Sunderland team I played against Newcastle which did so superbly in winning 3-0.
“The same players – two completely different performances – and it is that lack of consistency which is our problem now but has been this club’s problem for years.”
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