Jan Kirchhoff has urged his Sunderland team-mates to keep the faith after suffering yet another late blow in their efforts to crawl out of relegation trouble.
The Black Cats came within seven minutes of a seventh successive derby victory over Newcastle at St James’ Park on Sunday, a result which would have lifted them out of the Barclays Premier League drop zone, albeit only on goal difference.
However, Aleksandar Mitrovic’s late equaliser, which cancelled out Jermain Defoe’s 44th-minute opener, denied them two extra points for the second time in as many games and left them in great peril once again.
Manager Sam Allardyce could not disguise his frustration after watching his side dominate the first half, but January signing Kirchhoff is convinced Sunderland will get themselves out of trouble if they continue to play as they have in recent weeks.
The 25-year-old German said: “We are still above Newcastle, we are still in a position to stay in the league. We are two points behind Norwich, who have one game fewer, so it’s all in our own hands.
“We can stay in this mentality, to be sharp, to be focused and believe in winning our games. That’s how we can go on.
“I am really comfortable and I have the feeling we can stay in the league and are good enough to stay in the league.”
The international break means the Black Cats do not play again for a fortnight, and successive home games against West Brom and leaders Leicester are likely to have a major say in their destiny this season with
Allardyce having set his players a target of four wins from their remaining eight fixtures, one of which takes them to Carrow Road on April 16.
With the Tyne-Wear duo both failing to collect the three points they craved at the expense of the other, Norwich were the weekend’s big winners after their 1-0 away victory over the Baggies.
Kirchhoff said: “They won their last game, so it’s a good feeling for them, but we have got a game more so if we win it, we will go above them. We will have one point more than them, so it’s in our hands.
“We don’t have to focus on Norwich. We still have to play against them in a really tight, big important game, so we can do it. It’s in our hands, we can go on, we can believe in it and just work hard.
“If we go into the next game and get a clean sheet, I am sure it will be enough to win the game.”
A clean sheet, however, is something the Black Cats have managed only three times during Allardyce’s five-and-a-half-month reign to date, the last of them on November 28, and the 61-year-old is acutely aware of how costly that has been.
Allardyce said: “I know that we have got to keep clean sheets. If we don’t start, it’s going to go right to the very wire, and if we need two goals to win every game, that means that we need to score 16 goals at least in the next eight.
“We are going to have to score two goals to win any game. There are eight games to go, that’s 16 goals minimum we have got to score. We can’t do that.
“We could have won two games 1-0 now, and should have won two games 1-0 now and be sat on 30 points instead of 26.”