Big Sam aims for five wins to avoid drop

Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce (left, with Jack Rodwell) says his team will be under pressure to deliver five victories to avoid relegation.
Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce (left, with Jack Rodwell) says his team will be under pressure to deliver five victories to avoid relegation.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Sam Allardyce has set his team a target of 38 points this season as Sunderland's manager seeks five more Premier League wins from a spell which he admitted will place "immense pressure" on him and his players.

Crystal Palace, who are without a victory in 10 league fixtures, travel to the Stadium of Light today for a match which Sunderland know must bring them a positive result.

After losing 0-1 at West Ham, Allardyce's former club, on Saturday, they remain second from the bottom, one point behind 17th-placed Norwich City.

As well as failing to record a clean sheet at Upton Park, Sunderland were unable to convert their chances, a situation which Allardyce realises is untenable if his side are to avoid relegation.

"I would rather be Slaven Bilic and have a team playing below par and winning 1-0 than me, with us giving a terrific performance, creating more chances, more shots on target but when the final whistle blows it is the top line that counts and it was West Ham 1 Sunderland 0," Allardyce said.

"We have to try to reverse that. We have to have our best run of season, get five victories out of 11 - minimum - and that would give us 38 points, in the hope 38 points will be enough again this year.

"The pressure on Tuesday is immense now and it is whether we can cope with that, as well as being tactically astute enough not to let Crystal Palace play to their game plan.

"We have to try and keep the clean sheet we desperately need and be clever enough to put the ball in the net. We have had so many opportunities where we could have drawn but have lost. A few more points would have taken us out of the bottom three for a change."

While Palace have made progress in the FA Cup, they are in free fall in the league, failing to win since an away victory over Stoke City on Dec 19. While the confidence of Alan Pardew's players has been dented during that period, Allardyce is envious of their 32 points.

"I wouldn't mind being Alan now," he said. "For years and years and years I have told players at the start of the season that the first eight to ten games are the most important. It determines how much pressure you will put yourself under.

"If, like Palace, you have a brilliant start and get the points on the board, then when you go 10 without a win, then you only slip into the bottom half for the first time with just 11 games to go. It shows what it means to have a great start."

Duncan Watmore (ankle) and Jeremain Lens (hernia) are not available for the Palace game, but otherwise Allardyce has a full squad at his disposal.

Fit-again Crystal Palace winger Yannick Bolasie is likely to make his first start since December, while Bakary Sako may return from a hamstring problem.

THE TIMES, LONDON


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2016, with the headline 'Big Sam aims for five wins to avoid drop'. Print Edition | Subscribe