One of the three sides battling to avoid joining Aston Villa in the Championship will put a winning streak together before the end of the campaign, believes Sam Allardyce.
Swansea City’s shock victory at title-chasing Arsenal on Wednesday night has clarified the complexion of the relegation dogfight, with the 16th-placed Welsh club now boasting a six-point buffer from the four sides below them.
Sunderland took themselves out of the bottom three on goal difference after their midweek draw against Crystal Palace, yet the Black Cats are one of a trio of struggling sides all level on points and battling to avoid the drop.
Sunderland, Newcastle and Norwich are locked on 24 points, with two of the three now appearing destined to join doomed basement boys Villa in the Championship.
But Allardyce believes one of the trio will be able to muster a run of back-to-back victories over the final 10 games, and says that now needs to be Sunderland.
“I think one of the four will get two or three wins on the trot – it always happens!” said the Sunderland boss.
“We have just got to make sure it is us.
“We have to try as hard as we possibly can to put our best run of the season together in terms of victories and draws.
“When you look at the table now, there’s no point in hiding it – there are four of us cut adrift.
“Villa are struggling, but the other three of us have got 24 points and the nearest after that is 30-point Swansea.
“We have to get at least two wins on the trot to catch Swansea now, with 10 games to go.
“And that’s in the hope that Swansea lose two games on the trot!
“The way Swansea are performing at the moment, they probably wouldn’t.
“Now we are getting very close to almost must-win.
“We are not quite there, but almost.”
Sunderland have registered 12 points from nine games so far in 2016, yet that has not been sufficient for Allardyce’s men to create any breathing space with the drop zone.
However, Sunderland’s performance levels have improved since the turn of the year and even though wastefulness cost them in the defeats against Manchester City and West Ham, Allardyce says he has to take encouragement from the way the Black Cats are playing.
“We have made life extremely difficult for ourselves by not taking full advantage of some great performances, especially recently against West Ham and Man City,” said Allardyce.
“I think the players overall are still pretty confident that we can get out of trouble and I am very confident that we can on the basis of performances, even though results should have been better.
“We have to hope that the performances will eventually bring us results to get out of trouble.
“When you look at West Ham comfortably beating Tottenham on Wednesday night and we made life extremely uncomfortable for West Ham last weekend and created enough chances to win the game, that gives me confidence.
“The control that we had for most of Tuesday night’s game again gives me a lot of confidence, apart from losing it for five or 10 minutes.
“It’s just those small times of the game when we are not in control where we have to get better.”
Sunderland will perhaps sense a window of opportunity to improve their plight at Southampton tomorrow, with the Saints suffering two defeats in the last week.
Yet Allardyce remains wary of the threat posed by a club who have proved masters of the transfer market over recent seasons.
“They might have sold a lot of players, but they have spent a lot of money as well and they have recruited very well,” added Allardyce.
“That’s been a part of their policy and has kept them in and around the top half of the table. I would imagine it will be as tough a game as always, and one where we have to make sure we are on top form to get a result out of it.”