SUNDERLAND’S players have to take the responsibility themselves for saving the club’s Premier League status.
That’s the message of first-team coach Charlie Oatway as Sunderland prepare for tonight’s crucial Stadium of Light clash with West Ham, where anything less than victory could see the Black Cats’ survival hopes left in tatters.
The gap with the safety mark extended to four points over the weekend after West Brom’s draw against fellow strugglers Cardiff City, and Gus Poyet’s side realistically need to put a hefty chunk in that deficit against the Hammers, particularly as Sunderland’s subsequent four games are against top-six outfits Spurs, Everton, Manchester City and Chelsea.
Poyet’s five-month tenure on Wearside has seen Sunderland earn a shot at extending their seven-year stay in the top flight after the Black Cats boasted just a solitary point on the board following the opening eight games.
But other than victories against Fulham and Stoke, Sunderland have continually choked when faced with “winnable” games against other teams in the bottom half and Oatway says that is a pressure the players must be able to handle tonight.
Oatway told the Echo: “Listen, you can set up as well as you can. I don’t think teams have caused us too many problems at home defensively.
“We know that how we want to play, works.
“But when it goes down to someone scoring a goal, it goes down to the individual.
“Myself, (assistant manager, Mauricio) Taricco and Gus can’t do anything about that. Once they cross that white line, that comes down to the individual, his technical ability or whatever.
“We can’t do anything about that.
“All we can do is set up how we want to play, how we want to defend and once they go over that white line, it’s down to them.”
With three of Sunderland’s last four games of the season against Cardiff, West Brom and Swansea, the Black Cats are likely to enter the season’s final fortnight with a chance to still take charge of their own destiny.
But after taking just a solitary point from their last five league encounters, it is crucial that Sunderland remain within touching distance of those above them, particularly as Crystal Palace and Swansea were victorious on Saturday.
Oatway is not contemplating the consequences of failing to conquer the Hammers, but recognises the magnitude of the encounter.
He added: “I’m not thinking about anything other than beating West Ham. We’ve got to have that belief.
“That’s all you can do in these situations.
“We just need to make sure we get the points to stay up.
“West Ham is the biggest game of the season, without a shadow of the doubt.
“This is all that matters to us. We came here with one job and one job only, and that was to try to stay in the Premier League.
“That hasn’t changed. The cups gave us some great times, but the only thing that matters is staying in the league.
“It’s the only place to be.”