Sunderland boss Chris Coleman still hoping to stay up, but says Blackburn Rovers are the model to follow if they drop
Burton Albion. Fulham. Wolves.
Three names that evoke some rare positive memories for Chris Coleman and Sunderland supporters this season.
Those results earlier in the campaign offered hope in isolation, but, ahead of the return ties, it does not look have been enough.
Only nine points will do now. Even that might not be enough to beat the drop.
As he has done throughout a run that has seen Sunderland’s performances unquestionably improve, Coleman has urged his players to be left with no regrets come full-time.
He said: “Wolves are the most expensively assembled team in the Championship, and they are definitely one of the best teams I’ve seen in the Championship.
“But we went there and got a point, despite playing most of the second half with 10 men.
“We showed real fighting spirit.
“We beat Fulham at home, and my first win was Burton away.
“I don’t know whether that tells us something or not, but let’s hang on to it anyway!
“Everything is on the game (today, at home to Burton). We know where we are, we know what it means – it will be the same for Burton, but it’s probably even more so for us because we are the home team.
“This could be our last chance, so we have to empty, give it everything we have got, and hope and pray for a bit of Lady Luck.
“I couldn’t ask any more than the players have put in for the last five games and we’ve got a really good chance of getting three points which would keep us in there.
“The worst thing will be if teams around us give us a chance and we don’t take it.”
Coleman retains hope that something special can happen, but he has made no attempt to hide from the reality.
League One football is no longer a possibility but a stark probability.
It will be only the second time in the club’s history that they have dropped into the third tier, and will come at a time of heigtened uncertainty given the club’s ownership situation.
Coleman, while acknowledging that he will not stay if he deems it ‘pointless’ and that he can’t affect the club’s fortunes, remains upbeat, and says= that Blackburn Rovers’ thus far successful campaign can act as an inspiration.
He said: “If it is League One, there is only one objective isn’t there? Promotion, end of story.
“It’s not, ‘OK, let us find our feet’. Everything will be geared towards promotion.
“You know, when Blackburn were in the Championship, there was so much negativity about the owners, what had happened at the club.
“I went there for a few games, looking at players when I was Wales manager, and the feeling was not good at all.
“Go there this season, completely different – good vibe, team winning, not so much talk about the owners anymore.
“Once we know what we’ve got, it will all be about trying to go up.”