Stay up or risk going downhill, says Big Sam

LONDON • Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce has warned the bulk of his squad their careers may never hit the same heights if the club are relegated from the English Premier League.

Third-from-bottom Sunderland have six games left to avoid the drop to the Championship, starting with today's trip to 17th-placed Norwich City.

With the Canaries four points ahead of the Black Cats - albeit having played a game more - the British media have billed the showdown as a £500 million (S$963 million) game owing to the record Premier League TV deal.

While money will not be foremost on the minds of both sets of players today, the significance of the relegation six-pointer is undeniable.

"Most of the players will never get a better club than this one... If they moved on, I don't think even Wahbi Khazri, Lamine Kone and Jan Kirchhoff would step up from Sunderland," Allardyce told the British media.

"I can't see many of the lads getting a better or bigger club than this one, so their big challenge is to stay in the Premier League."

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He added that it would sting if he lost his record of never suffering relegation from the English top flight but feared the damage would be worse for the club and squad if they did go down.

"It would hurt, yes, but it's more important for the club than it is for me," said the former Blackburn, Newcastle, West Ham and Bolton boss. "It would hurt this club immensely if they got relegated."

While today's match is one that both clubs cannot afford to lose, Norwich manager Alex Neil has vowed not to settle for a draw.

"We'll approach tomorrow trying to win the game and we've got every chance of doing just that," he said. "I'm confident and comfortable with our preparation. This is the type of high-pressure game that you play football for.

"The points would be huge. If we go seven points it would be a really tough task for anyone to claw that back with the limited games left."

A Norwich win will certainly push another Tyneside club closer to relegation. Newcastle are one place off the bottom, two points behind rivals Sunderland, as they prepare to face Swansea at St James' Park.

Newcastle are without a league win since Feb 6, and new Magpies manager Rafael Benitez conceded that time is running out.

"It's massive for us, crucial for us. We have to start winning games," said the Spaniard. "In training sessions, the team is doing well. Now is the time to show it and play as a team on the pitch."

REUTERS

NORWICH V SUNDERLAND
Ch102 & Ch227, 7.45pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 16, 2016, with the headline 'Stay up or risk going downhill, says Big Sam'. Print Edition | Subscribe