Sunderland face 36 'cup finals' in promotion race

Sunderland's dreams of returning to the Premiership at the first attempt rest on a series of 36 "cup finals", according to their rejuvenated Argentinian full-back, Julio Arca after their 3-2 victory over Ipswich on Tuesday night.

Mick McCarthy's side are now fifth in the First Division after showing all the battling qualities they will need to succeed this season as they scrapped their way back from a goal down and then had enough resolve to win it at the death against Joe Royle's men.

However, they will have to do exactly the same if they are to maintain their momentum when they head for the league leaders Sheffield United on Saturday, and far beyond.

"Every game is a battle for Sunderland," Arca said. "They are all like finals - we have another 36 to go.

"This league is difficult for us because teams really want to beat us, but we'll just keep battling. We have Sheffield United on Saturday and that will be another tough game.

"Sheffield United are top of the league, but Saturday will be a big one for them."

Sunderland's victory was their sixth in their last eight league games, but it is their form at the Stadium of Light which is providing the foundation, with only Millwall denying them maximum points so far.

Gary Breen's own goal handed Ipswich a first-half lead, but the defender made amends with an equaliser before the break and although Richard Naylor cancelled out John Oster's 50th-minute strike within seconds, Kevin Kyle won it with just five minutes left.

"We now have a lot of confidence at home and we always think we can win games," Arca said. "We've had a few good results and performances at the Stadium of Light and the people are enjoying it again."

The Wigan manager Paul Jewell bemoaned his side's lack of quality up front after a goalless draw at Cardiff.

Cardiff's Robert Earnshaw was denied a goal at Ninian Park for only the second time this season as Wigan's impressive defence held firm against the division's hottest striker.

Jewell conceded it was a fair result, but said: "There is a long way to go in the season and we need more quality in the final third. We need to show more composure but I am very happy with the clean sheet."

The Cardiff midfielder Richard Langley said: "Wigan are the toughest team physically we have come up against this season. We are happy with a point after suffering those three straight defeats recently.

"With the teams we have played so far we are confident that there is nothing to fear in this division for Cardiff City."

The Cardiff manager Lennie Lawrence was delighted that his side had stopped leaking goals. "We had to put a stop to that crazy spell when we let in 10 goals in three games."

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