Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce has put a difficult few days behind him and warned his players to strap themselves in for a white-knuckle ride as the race for Barclays Premier League survival comes to a head.
Allardyce spent much of Thursday's pre-match press conference facing questions over what he and the club knew about Adam Johnson's child sex offences, following their sacked former midfielder's conviction for engaging in sexual activity with a 15-year-old girl having earlier admitted two charges.
But as Johnson prepared himself for a lengthy spell behind bars and the club kept its own counsel amid a growing tide of criticism over its decision to allow the 28-year-old to continue his career while protesting his innocence over the allegations, Allardyce turned his attention back to Saturday's trip to Southampton and a desperate scrap for points.
Sunderland climbed out of the relegation zone on goal difference on Tuesday evening when substitute Fabio Borini's remarkable late strike secured a 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace, but they remain deep in trouble and needing, in their manager's estimation, five wins or the equivalent from their final 10 games to stay up.
Allardyce said: "That would be great. It would be our best run of the season, putting together five wins in 10 games. It could be four wins, three draws, however we can get to 38 points, which is certainly, I think, going to be enough this year.
"I hope we can achieve it. If we can go on a miraculous run and achieve more, that would make life even more pleasurable for us coming towards the last few games.
"But I certainly think we are all going to be getting ready to bite our nails again. I think it is going to go right to the wire, so we will need to be biting our nails.
"I hope I'm wrong, but it looks like that is going to be the case and if that's the case, if we can hold our nerve, I certainly think we have got the talent to get out of trouble."
Sunderland, derby rivals Newcastle and Norwich are locked together on 24 points with a spread of four goals separating the three clubs above basement boys Aston Villa, and with Swansea and Bournemouth having made significant steps forward in midweek, that quartet is in danger of being cast adrift.
Allardyce said: "We are in a position now where we are fighting against the other three. It's looking like it's going to be any three out of that four and we have got to make sure that we are at the top of that little league table at the end of the season.
"Whether we can drag anybody else in...it means one of us will have to go on a three or four-game winning streak to even claw those boys back to us, so it looks like any one out of the four of us is going to be the one which survives."
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