The full-back Phil Bardsley has cited the manager Roy Keane's ambition as a key factor in Sunderland's drive towards Premier League safety.
The Wearsiders moved 10 points clear of third-bottom Bolton after Saturday's 3-1 win at Fulham, which was their third victory in a row and a second in succession away from home. Keane was quick to insist the job was not yet complete as Fulham and Bolton, inside the bottom three, are still mathematically alive. Birmingham and Reading are the most vulnerable of the clubs immediately above the relegation places.
Nine points from three games have put Sunderland into 13th place; a victory against Manchester City this weekend could end any relegation fears once and for all.
That would be a creditable performance by any promoted club. However, consolidation was the very minimum requirement for Keane when he began the season and his hunger for lasting success will mean that he will consider safety only a start.
"That's the type of guy he is," Bardsley said. "He wants better things all the time, and he is a great manager to have around you. He is always trying to get the best out of everyone and produce a great team."
Keane has stamped his authority on the club, giving short shrift to any misbehaving players. He has also instilled his football ethos into his squad and established a collective understanding of what is required.
Asked about the position in which Sunderland find themselves heading into the final five games of the season, Bardsley's pragmatic and cautious reply could have come straight from Keane's lips.
"As players, you have got to be able to keep your feet on the ground," he said. "We have won three games on the trot and it is a great achievement, but it is not the be all and end all. There are more games to be won and the lads realise that. If we keeping digging in and showing the same enthusiasm and commitment there is no reason why we cannot pick more points up.
"Ten points is a big gap, but we know we cannot rest on our laurels. We know we have got to dig in right to the end and pick up as many points as possible. Hopefully, we will do that, starting against Manchester City on Saturday."
The former Manchester United player, who arrived at the Stadium of Light in a £2m move in January, has played every minute of the 10 games Sunderland have contested since. Along with a former Old Trafford team-mate, Jonny Evans, and the Republic of Ireland midfielder Andy Reid, he has made a significant impact as the club has collected five wins and a draw in that period, adding 16 points to the 20 they had collected from the previous 23 league fixtures.
Bardsley said: "As a player, it has got to come from yourself, a bit of belief and a bit of drive and a bit of will to win. But the manager has a big influence on that. He knew what he had got to do to get the best out of the lads, and the lads are oozing with confidence now.
"And there is no reason why they should not be because the last few weeks have been brilliant."Reuse content