Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce hailed his side's miraculous recovery from the "dark days" of December after a 3-0 win over Everton secured Barclays Premier League survival with a game to spare.
Patrick Van Aanholt's first-half free-kick and two further goals from Lamine Kone got the win the Black Cats needed to stay up and relegate Norwich and north-east rivals Newcastle instead.
Allardyce said: "It is outstanding from the grim dark days of December when we lost five games on the trot and it rang home that the only chance we had to survive was to get new players in.
"That's proven to be the case - since the turn of the year our performances and ultimately our results have got us clear of relegation with a game to spare and the last two games in particular have been a great joy and satisfaction.
"It's been a test not just on the field but off it. I've always tried to focus on the players and not let the outside influences affect me, particularly through the hard times, and I think in the end we've come through it stronger and stronger."
Allardyce revealed he used the opinion of his predecessor Dick Advocaat - who intimated the Black Cats were doomed to relegation - as motivation throughout his side's initially unlikely survival fight.
He added: "It was a challenge for me when Dick said this team is going to get relegated. I used it as motivation for the players and we've gone and proved him wrong - it's more satisfying for the players than it is for me.
"This is the worst season ever to get relegated from the Premier League with the money scenario and this means we have secured massive revenue to help the club improve."
Meanwhile Allardyce refused the invitation to heap more pain on his adversary Rafael Benitez, insisting: "It's not his fault - he made a gallant effort but we've only lost one in 10 and that's why we've managed to get ourselves out of trouble."
Everton boss Roberto Martinez insisted he had no doubt over the commitment of his players after watching them stretch their dismal run to one win from their last 10 games.
Pressure is piling up on Martinez who will lead his side out against relegated Norwich on Sunday with his future hanging by a thread after another below-par performance.
Asked whether he still felt he had his players' loyalty, Martinez replied: "100 per cent - I know the players gave everything they have."
Martinez refused to be too despondent over his side's display, insisting they deserved to take more from the game after missed chances from likes of Matthew Pennington and Romelu Lukaku.
He added: "At the moment since the FA Cup semi-final it has been difficult for us to get that belief and intensity in the league and Sunderland were the opposite - a fully focused team who created a good momentum because they were close to finishing the job.
"We were a little bit pedestrian but I thought the effort and intent was there in a very competitive game.
"It was a very tough result for us to take. We kept pushing and creating chances and in the latter stages of the game we hit the post and the bar and we didn't get anything.
"Overall we fought for every ball and we put in a lot of effort, but Sunderland scored the goals."
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