Saturday, 3 May 2014 | MYT 12:32 AM

Sunderland optimistic as relegation struggle nears climax

LONDON (Reuters) - Sunderland believe they have the crucial momentum as the struggle to avoid relegation from the Premier League enters its final eight days this weekend.

Three weeks ago the Wearsiders looked doomed, with manager Gus Poyet saying it would take a miracle to keep them up, but the last three games have changed everything.

A draw and a win at title contenders Manchester City and Chelsea respectively, followed by a 4-0 trouncing of fellow strugglers Cardiff, have lifted Sunderland off the bottom of the table and out of the drop zone.

They have 32 points, the same as Norwich City, one better than Fulham and two ahead of Cardiff, but with a much better goal difference than all three rivals and a game in hand.

"The players are desperate to play again and go on and keep winning," Poyet told reporters ahead of Saturday's game at Manchester United.

"The feeling is great. We need to make sure we take into consideration everything we’ve done, but knowing that there’s plenty to do. It’s going to be a special game for everybody.

"We know how Manchester United look now under Ryan Giggs. We know they’re going to be confident after last weekend, but it’s the same for us," added the manager.

Even if Sunderland are beaten, they could almost certainly guarantee survival by winning their two home games next week against West Bromwich Albion and then Swansea City.

"We’re confident as well because of the result last weekend, so it should be a very good game," said Poyet of the trip to Old Trafford, where United favourite Giggs has replaced David Moyes as manager.

"We need to make sure we bring them down to a certain level where we can go and take advantage. We did that against Manchester City and Chelsea."

Poyet took over from Paolo di Canio, who was sacked only five games into the season, and the three teams below them have also all changed managers this season - Fulham doing so twice after dismissing Martin Jol and then Rene Meulensteen.

Bottom placed Cardiff, who replaced Malky Mackay with the former Manchester United hero Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in January, hope to take advantage of Newcastle United's poor form - six successive defeats - when they travel to the North-East on Saturday.

Then they are at home to Chelsea, who could still be in contention for a top two finish or even the title itself.

Fulham, a Premier League club since 2001, have two mid-table opponents to play in Stoke City, away, and London rivals Crystal Palace at home.

Norwich are on the worst run of all the strugglers, having lost their last five games, and were always in danger of a difficult end to the season, knowing they had to play Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal.

Sacking Chris Hughton and appointing Neil Adams just before that run of matches, they lost the first two and now visit Chelsea on Sunday in a parlous position and knowing they need points from the last two matches.

Adams was upbeat on Friday, telling the club website: "The players' attitude has been positive, the effort and commitment are there."

The clubs immediately above the bottom four may also need to add to their tallies to be safe with Aston Villa on 35 points, but a game in hand on the bottom three, West Brom 36, and West Ham and Hull City on 37.

(Writing by Steve Tongue, editing by Alan Baldwin)


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