Jermain Defoe has challenged his Sunderland team-mates to thrive under the pressure of the Tees-Wear derby.
The club’s bleak survival chances took another heavy blow when fourth-bottom Hull City extended the gap between themselves and Sunderland to 12 points at the weekend.
But ahead of tomorrow night’s derby with relegation rivals Middlesbrough at the Riverside, Defoe says David Moyes’ side have to show their character and keep believing they can pull off a miraculous escape.
“It is a must-win game and it has been that way for a number of weeks now - it is not an easy game, away from home against Middlesbrough, our neighbours,” said the club’s 14-goal top scorer.
“It is tough, especially when you have not been getting results, the confidence won’t be sky high but at the end of the day that is when you have to show your character - it is as simple as that.
“We are all in this together and will be until the last game of the season.
“We have to try and win every game, that is all we can do. It won’t be easy but it is doable.
“After the Bournemouth game I can’t imagine [Boro] will be confident going into this game, of course it is a different game but hopefully we have caught them at the right time and we can go there and get three points - we need them.”
Steve Agnew’s Boro shipped four goals against Eddie Howe’s side on the south coast to leave their survival hopes hanging by an equally small thread.
Sunderland head into the derby a dozen points from safety with two games in hand, while second-bottom Boro are three points better off but only have a game in hand on Hull.
A big night is in store on Teesside and Defoe says the Sunderland players must step up to the plate.
“It is pressure. A lot of the lads have been here before, not everyone because we have new signings,” added the England international.
“It is a different situation compared to last year in terms of the points and where we are but it is what it is.
“You can’t get your head down, it is another football match - you have to go out there and believe you are going to win.
“Believe we are the better team and try and perform.
“If you are sitting here as a Chelsea or Tottenham player there is pressure, pressure of winning trophies or a few more games to get over the line or into the top four.
“Whatever club you play for there will always be pressure. Unfortunately, in our position every game until now and the end of the season are must-win games.
“That is a lot of pressure, even if you said to one of the top teams they have to win the next six games it would be difficult.
“But it is football and anything is possible, anything could happen and you need to have that mentality.
“Go into every game with a positive attitude,” he told the club website.
Sunderland host Bournemouth at the Stadium of Light on Saturday and Defoe says it is vital the Black Cats head into that game on the back of a win.
Defoe - who has been linked with a move to the Cherries in the summer - added: “It is important to get the three points to take into Bournemouth on Saturday.
“The Stadium of Light is always rocking but it would be unbelievable if we can go into that game on the back of a win.
“It is a good Bournemouth team but being at home, it should always be a place where teams find it difficult to come.”