JOHN O’SHEA admits Sunderland will be keeping a close eye on proceedings at the DW Stadium tonight.
But the stand-in skipper insists Sunderland must take heart from ensuring their fate remains in their own hands after fighting back to secure a point against fellow strugglers Stoke City last night.
O’Shea’s goal rescued a draw for 10-man Sunderland at the Stadium of Light after a nightmare opening half-hour when Jonathan Walters handed the Potters an early lead before Craig Gardner was sent off.
But the 1-1 draw propelled Sunderland above Norwich and Newcastle on goal difference and Paolo Di Canio’s side will remain outside of the drop zone before the weekend’s fixtures, regardless of third bottom Wigan’s result against Swansea tonight.
With fellow strugglers Southampton visiting the Stadium of Light on Sunday in the penultimate game of the season, O’Shea hopes the point proves to be a valuable one in hindsight.
O’Shea said: “You get to two games to go and you have to look at the other results, whatever the case may be tonight.
“But the big thing is, it’s still in our hands.
“If we do our job on Sunday, then we wait and see what the picture is like then.
“Everyone is wondering what it’ll take (to stay up).
“When Wigan won the other day at West Brom, you looked up as far as Fulham on the 40-point mark.
“But if we can show the passion and desire we showed in the second half, and the fans show that as well, then we’ve got a chance on Sunday.”
O’Shea admits Sunderland’s players were fearing the worst at the interval after being caught out by Stoke’s deadball prowess and then seeing their chances further ebb away when Gardner was sent off for a reckless lunge on Charlie Adam.
The centre-half said: “We were fully aware of Stoke’s physical presence. Even when you’re walking out in the tunnel and see the big men they have.
“It’s a hell of a ball in for the first goal, but we can stop that if we pick up better.
“Obviously then, Gards was frustrated. He needs to keep his head cool and he’s just lost it a bit unfortunately.
“He got the red and you’re thinking ‘wow, this is really going to be a backs-to-the-wall job’.
“But I think it showed good belief from everyone.
“Thankfully we managed to pull it back and we hope it’s a big point, but Sunday will determine that.”
O’Shea’s strike from Seb Larsson’s corner was only his second goal in Sunderland colours, yet proved just rewards from a gutsy second half from Di Canio’s men.
“I hope that goal proves to be crucial,” added the Ireland international.
“I had a chance just before that which was cleared off the line.
“It was the only place I could really put it because there were so many bodies in the way, but I think it was (Dean) Whitehead who cleared it off the line.
“I’d been running to the near post all night and to be fair, (Ryan) Shawcross was marking me quite well.
“I just said to Carlos (Cuellar) running up, to go to the front and I’d go to the back.
“Thankfully I managed to lose him (Shawcross) and tucked it away.”