Big Sam revels in big escape from drop

Lamine Kone (left) scores the third goal for Sunderland in their 3-0 win, which secured their escape from relegation.
Lamine Kone (left) scores the third goal for Sunderland in their 3-0 win, which secured their escape from relegation. PHOTOS: REUTERS
Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce acknowledges fans after the game.
Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce acknowledges fans after the game.PHOTOS: REUTERS

Allardyce says recruitment is crucial after Sunderland survive fourth relegation battle

LONDON • Sam Allardyce dad-danced across the pitch as his Sunderland side celebrated their latest escape from Premier League relegation on a night when Newcastle United and Norwich City were condemned to the Championship.

Sunderland's 3-0 win against struggling Everton on Wednesday was sufficient to end survival hopes on Tyneside and in Norfolk.

Although Alex Neil's side defeated Watford 4-2 at Carrow Road, it was not enough to save his team, who go down with Aston Villa and Newcastle.

While Rafael Benitez will agonise over whether he wants to continue managing Newcastle during second-tier trips to Burton Albion and the like next season, Lee Charnley issued a statement thanking Newcastle fans for their support and apologising for relegation.

"I am truly sorry we have not given you the outcome you deserve," Newcastle's managing director said.

"We are devastated."

While Mike Ashley, Newcastle's owner, ponders how his board spent £80 million (S$158.4 million) on players this season and still missed out on the £100 million Premier League television deal for next season, Allardyce promised to break Sunderland's cycle of repeated relegation struggles.

It was their fourth consecutive successful battle against dropping into the Championship, but there were times when Allardyce believed it was a struggle they might not win.

"To be safe with one game to go is pretty miraculous," he said. "There was no way I wanted to go to Watford on Sunday with anything on the line but you go back into November when Everton beat us 6-2 and it shows how far we've come.

"We turned into a team from January onwards. This is probably one of my greatest achievements in management."

The January additions of midfielders Wahbi Khazri and Jan Kirchhoff, and Ivory Coast defender Lamine Kone - who scored twice against Everton - have proved crucial in Sunderland's latest successful survival bid.

He confirmed that he would still be at the Stadium of Light next season. "Am I staying? I hope so but the next set of recruitment is crucial," he said.

"This club can't be cheering and doing a lap of honour every season just for escaping relegation."

As he sipped a glass of beer, Allardyce revealed that he had used as motivation his predecessor Dick Advocaat's claim that Sunderland were doomed to relegation.

"What was sweet was proving Dick wrong. I've got the utmost respect for Dick Advocaat but I used that as motivation for the players."

Asked if relegating Newcastle and his old sparring partner Benitez was satisfying, he said: "Not really, no. It's not Rafa's fault, he's made a valiant effort, he's not lost in five games now - but we've lost only once in 10."

Relief was Allardyce's overwhelming emotion. "This is the worst season we could have got relegated from the Premier League. We've secured massive revenue and there's great relief there's going to be no staff cutbacks," he said.

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2016, with the headline 'Big Sam revels in big escape from drop'. Print Edition | Subscribe