Simon Mignolet calls for cool heads as Sunderland prepare for relegation battle

Newcastle next up after nine-game winless streak

Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet had warned Sunderland they cannot allow the pressure of a relegation scrap get to them if they are to survive.

The 25-year-old Belgium international and his team-mates find themselves in desperate trouble as they attempt to avoid an unexpected departure from the Barclays Premier League with new manager Paolo Di Canio having been handed the task of dragging them clear from trouble.

They head for arch-rivals Newcastle on Sunday on the back of a nerve-shredding nine-game winless run which has brought them just three points, and with the Magpies themselves needing another victory to all but ensure their place in the top flight next season, the derby stakes have rarely been higher.

However, Mignolet, while acutely aware that defeat on Tyneside would send them into their clash with Everton on April 20 in deep trouble, is adamant that each of their remaining six games must be tackled in isolation if they are to escape.

He said: "As a professional footballer, we can't think about that.

"We can't think about what's going to happen in the Everton game or the game after that, or what's going to happen at the end of the season.

"Now we have to focus and get ourselves ready for the game against Newcastle because there are three points to win, three points to lose.

"I know obviously it's a derby game and there is much more at stake than only the three points, but as a football players, you can't think of that because that's not important at this moment.

"Points are far more important, and therefore we have to focus ourselves on that and nothing else."

Recent Tyne-Wear derbies have unfolded between fine margins, the Black Cats' 5-1 drubbing at St James' in October 2010 aside, and fortune often plays its part.

Sunderland have suffered luck of the unwelcome kind in their past two games with Titus Bramble's own goal handing Manchester United victory at the Stadium of Light, while a Matt Kilgallon deflection and a Branislav Ivanovic winner - which the defender appeared to know little about - assured Chelsea of the points at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

However, Mignolet believes only he and his team-mates can change that.

He said: "When you are in the position we are, those things go against you.

"But there is no such thing as luck in football, you just force that yourself. Let's make sure we force the luck our way against Newcastle because that's very important.

"If we can get the three points there, there are still 15 points to play for."

The defeat at Chelsea was Di Canio's first game at the helm following Martin O'Neill's departure, and the Italian was buoyed by what he saw despite the final outcome.

He is still getting to know the players he inherited from the Ulsterman, whose demise was greeted philosophically by Mignolet.

He said: "In my short career, I know what it is when a manager leaves and when a new manager comes in.

"There's always one factor that is always the same, and it's when there are not enough points and when the results go against you, and unfortunately, that happened for Martin O'Neill.

"As a team when you don't get the results, there's always something to change and you always need something to happen to get a turn-around.

"The club has tried to do that with appointing a new manager. We had a great first half against Chelsea, we also had a decent second half against Manchester United - let's hope we can combine those two halves now into one game against Newcastle."

PA

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