The Sunderland manager, Ricky Sbragia, has admitted that tomorrow's Premier League match with Hull City is a must-win game.
The Black Cats are hovering just above the drop zone after four straight defeats and remain locked in a bitter relegation fight with their North-east rivals Newcastle and Middlesbrough, both two points behind Sbragia's team. But the Scot has told his players they will stay up if they can reproduce the form shown in the 2-1 defeat to Manchester United last weekend.
The Wearsiders host fellow strugglers Hull tomorrow before travelling to West Bromwich seven days later. "It's a must-win situation," Sbragia said yesterday. "We know how big this game is for us. Hull will make it difficult for us but I feel we have enough to get something from it.
"We were encouraged by last week's performance. We did a lot of good things – we worked hard and showed better commitment. As a unit and as a team we did well throughout the game, so with a bit of luck we might have got something from it. I thought the crowd was fantastic, so on the day I was happy with everything except the result.
"We now have to do it against Hull, it can't be just a one-off. In general we need to keep together, be focused, committed, and show the desire we did last week, we've got to be all of those things against Hull.
"We can't afford to lose it, it's as simple as that. If other results go our way then it could be different, but we're not looking at that on Saturday. We've taken a lot from our previous game and we have to carry that through."
While Sunderland have won just one of their last nine, the Tigers have picked up maximum points only once in 17 games.
Sbragia added: "It'll be very tense and edgy early doors. We don't know how Hull are going to set up, but we know roughly how we're going to approach it and we need to make sure that we don't concede early on and try to get an early goal ourselves.
"We have two big games coming up, and we have another four big games after that, but as far as we're concerned we're focusing on the Hull game, and we know the importance of it. Hull had a great start to the season, but they've obviously slipped down, and three points either way can settle your Premier League safety. It's one of those games that you definitely can't afford to lose, but it would be even better to win."
Sbragia enjoyed back-to-back wins over Hull and West Bromwich when he was caretaker manager in December before being handed the job permanently. "In general we did well against Hull," he said. "When we got our chances, we took them and on the day we were clinical. We got off to a great start back then and it would be nice to repeat it. We scored eight goals, conceded just the one, and it would be nice to come out with those stats after the next two games, but they're completely different now. We know how hard it's going to be but we can only give our all and that's all I'm asking from my players."