Belfast Telegraph

Sam Allardyce focused only on Sunderland's survival fight

Sam Allardyce admits Sunderland are now effectively fighting for a 17th-place finish in their bid to beat the Premier League drop.

The Sunderland boss accepts his side will now struggle to overhaul Swansea in 16th, with the Wearsiders trailing the Welshmen by eight points.

Jermain Defoe thought his 14th goal of the season had sealed a vital win at Southampton on Saturday, only for Virgil Van Dijk to grab a 1-1 draw in injury-time.

Sunderland face relegation rivals and local foes Newcastle next on Sunday, March 20, but Allardyce has warned his men not to let the Tyne-Wear derby detract from their survival fight.

"It's not about Newcastle, or anyone else," said Allardyce.

"It's about us getting to 38 points as quickly as we can.

"We should have had 27 now, we should have only needed another 11 from nine games and we don't have that opportunity.

"The gap between us and the teams above us has got to a stage where we'd have to win three games on the trot and they'd have to lose three games on the trot, just for us to catch them.

"That's how difficult we've made it for ourselves.

"We still wanted the chance to catch those above us if we'd won.

"And we haven't done it.

"So we're making life difficult for ourselves.

"I am pleased with performances, but by and large we've just got to turn them into victories and very quickly."

Jose Fonte's red card 10 minutes from time opened up a previously insipid encounter on the south coast.

Second-half substitute Defoe capitalised on the extra space to prod home six minutes from time, before Van Dijk turned in Dusan Tadic's cutback - to Saints boss Ronald Koeman's great relief.

Republic of Ireland striker Shane Long could be fit for Saints' trip to Stoke on Saturday, but Charlie Austin is expected to miss several weeks with hamstring trouble.

Koeman admitted Sadio Mane, Graziano Pelle and Tadic have all struggled for confidence, but now hopes the last-gasp equaliser can breathe new life into his forward line.

"If you watch each individual striker then they are far away from the best shape they can bring," said Koeman, still holding out hope Southampton can qualify for next term's Europa League.

"It's difficult, for Sadio, Pelle, Dusan, difficult at the moment.

"Maybe Shane was one of the strikers full of confidence, full of spirit, great belief.

"And the others need to recover that.

"And that's maybe the most important for the team to fight for Europe.

"Maybe they were a little bit unsure of themselves after our defeat at Bournemouth on Tuesday.

"They are human, but hopefully they can build that confidence again."


From Belfast Telegraph