Vito Mannone admits Sunderland have to treat every game like a Champions League final as they attempt to secure their Premier League status.
The Black Cats hauled themselves out of the relegation zone on goal difference courtesy of a creditable 0-0 home draw with Arsenal on Sunday and, with four games remaining, are in pole position to beat neighbours Newcastle and Norwich to the last safe spot.
However, the 28-year-old Italian goalkeeper knows there could yet be more twists and turns in the race for survival and is aware he and his team-mates can leave nothing to chance as the pressure mounts by the week.
Mannone said: “It’s a strange feeling. You go in with pressure, but if you manage to change the pressure in a positive way and really push to do something special, really it feels like a Champions League final every game.
“I know we are fighting for the Premier League, but that’s our Champions League, really, in our heads.
“All we have to do is stay positive and wait for another final to come. Stoke next is another three points. That’s what we have to do and as we have learned from the past survivals and from other teams like Leicester, you don’t care who you play against, you just go out and try to win the games.”
The three-way fight to remain among English football’s elite could hardly be tighter. A single point separates the three clubs, with the Magpies having played a game more than their rivals, while the Black Cats enjoy the best goal difference, which could yet prove decisive.
Sam Allardyce’s men have hit form just at the right time, losing just once in their last six games, although that run includes only a single victory.
Newcastle too have rallied under Rafael Benitez to collect five of the last nine points they have contested, the last two of them from battling draws against Manchester City and Liverpool, and the margin for error is minimal.
Sunderland’s remaining four games include home clashes with Chelsea and Everton, although Mannone insists they should fear no-one.
He said: “Every game in the Premier League is difficult, but we have got the confidence now throughout the team that if we do the job right, we may get these chances to win games, so it doesn’t matter if it’s Chelsea or Arsenal.
“As you have seen in the past, we have been in games lately and we have always been in charge to get points – and if we didn’t get all the points we deserved, it was out fault.
“But we need to stay positive and keep it going because it can be an odd win that takes you to survival.”
The Black Cats might have emerged with three points rather than one on Sunday had the woodwork and Gunners keeper Petr Cech not combined to deny them, but Arsenal old boy Mannone was happy enough with a draw.
He said: “It’s a very good point, but obviously for the situation we are in, if one of the chances we had had gone in, then it would have been a great bonus three points for us.
“But at the end of the day, we got a nice point against a good Arsenal side and a clean sheet again, and that’s all we can ask for.”