Sam Allardyce says Sunderland must stay cool in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of Saturday’s crucial clash with fellow Premier League strugglers Norwich City.
The Black Cats head to Carrow Road 18th in the table, four points adrift of 17th-placed Norwich but with a game in hand.
A win over the Canaries would keep top-flight survival in Sunderland’s hands, although a record of just three victories in their last 27 Premier League away games offers little cause for optimism.
However, manager Allardyce believes his side have the quality to pick up a positive result – as long as they are mentally strong enough to deal with what is sure to be a tense, fraught afternoon in East Anglia.
“The lads have got to keep their nerve more than anything else going into Saturday’s game and until the end of the season,” Allardyce said at Friday’s pre-match media conference.
He continued: “If we handle the mental side of it, then technically we’ll be good enough.
“If we don’t handle the mental side, then our technique and focus will let us down. This league is one that punishes you to extremes if you have lapses in concentration at any stage of the game.
“We can’t afford those slips anymore. We had one on Sunday and [Jamie] Vardy put it in the back of the net [in last weekend’s 2-0 defeat to leaders Leicester City].
“It’s time that we were the ones who took advantage of the opposition, rather than them taking advantage of us.”
Allardyce has a fully-fit squad to choose from after Duncan Watmore returned to training following an ankle injury.
Sunderland travel south on the back of a six-game winless run in the Premier League, with the only victory in their last 11 coming at home to Manchester United in mid-February.
Norwich, meanwhile, have won two of their last three to give their chances of beating the drop a shot in the arm.
Last weekend’s defeat at 16th-placed Crystal Palace saw the Canaries fall six points behind Alan Pardew’s side, who subsequently gave themselves more breathing room by taking a point from their home match with Everton on Wednesday.
Nevertheless, Norwich manager Alex Neil expects his players to respond to their Selhurst Park disappointment on Saturday.
He told the Eastern Daily Press: “I don’t think anybody bounces into work when you have lost a game and on occasions there has been a sombre mood when we have lost big games, certainly when we have played well and not come away with anything.
“The lads seem much more confident and much more at ease after this recent run because they can now see results are coming.”
Defender Timm Klose faces a race against time to be fit after injuring his knee at Palace, but Russell Martin could return after a knock.
Key Opta stats:
– Norwich have lost none of their last five Barclays Premier League meetings with Sunderland (W3 D2 L0).
– Norwich have won only five of their last 19 Premier League matches at Carrow Road (W5 D5 L9).
– The Black Cats have kept just one clean sheet in their last 17 Premier League away games.
– This match will be Sam Allardyce’s 462nd in the Premier League, taking him to outright fourth in the list of most PL games managed behind Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger and Harry Redknapp.
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