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An Impartial View on the Relegation run-in: cardiff
By Darren Hyland

First up, we've deliberately used the old Cardiff crest above, cos Vincent Tan's a dick. Secondly, for the next five days on als.com I, an impartial (and this season, suffering) Manchester/Carlisle United fan, will be looking at the bottom five teams in the top tier, and their chances on seeing Premier League football next season.

Cardiff City occupy the final relegation place leading up to this weekend's round of matches. Since their promotion The Bluebirds have been embroiled in their own inner struggles as well as those on the field, with owner Vincent Tan taking any and every opportunity to make waves and generally hold the club hostage.
With a young manager for the future in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer taking over when Tan booted Malky MacKay out of the dugout via email, the mood in the terraces improved. Sadly for Cardiff, their form did not. They will be in the north east on their next two matchdays, before a very tricky home game to finish.

Sunderland (A) 27.04.14
As I have already covered this fixture earlier in the week for my piece on Sunderland, I will take a more Cardiff-considered approach on this one. City have got a good side on paper, and Solskjaer has begun to bed in his first choice XI. Players like Frazier Campbell and Jordan Mutch offer creativity going forward, and Peter Whittingham’s left foot can produce magic at any level. At the back Steven Caulker has five league goals this season, but clean sheets have been a tad too elusive for their liking. The Stadium of Light should be bouncing on Sunday and if the fans and players both come out firing then I fear Cardiff will struggle to get a foot in the game. The score remains the same as it did on my Sunderland entry, but don’t be surprised if the Welsh side spring a draw from this.

Final score: Sunderland 1-0 Cardiff
Newcastle (A) 03.05.14
The Newcastle game is, to me, the most winnable out of the three for Cardiff. While Sunderland are a club on the up and ready to fight, Newcastle have slid down the table with barely a whimper. They are currently 9th, but five defeats in a row paint a picture of what could have been, and perhaps how big a mistake it was to let Yohan Cabaye go before the summer. Cardiff will be in desperate need of points, and St James’ is the place to pick them up. Newcastle have fielded the likes of Paul Dummett and Mike Williamson regularly, players who do not look like they are Premier League class. Coupled with the alarming form of Papiss Cisse and Luuk De Jong, and I think Cardiff will see off the Magpies and keep their hopes alive.
Final score: Newcastle 1-2 Cardiff

Chelsea (H) 11.05.14
After being humbled by Sunderland, Jose Mourinho will be in no mood to drop any more points in pursuit of Liverpool for the title. If they beat the Merseysiders they are back in the hunt, but another slip up will present the title to Anfield. Eden Hazard should be back come the end of the season, and with the rest of their attacking potential it’s hard to see Cardiff being able to come away with a clean sheet. Though the league may be beyond Chelsea by the last weekend of the season, the Londoners will still prove to be too much for Cardiff. Hazard and co will look to fill their boots, and one goal may lead to a bit of a romp.

Final score: Cardiff 0-4 Chelsea

Final points tally: 33
My final tally for Cardiff will see them below Sunderland and Fulham, and therefore relegated after just one season. Sad for Solskjaer, who is still a legend back at Old Trafford, but I think he chose the wrong team for his English managerial debut. Maybe he would have a decent crack somewhere more familiar…

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Match Report: The National Football Museum
By Lola Wilson…

In what can only be described as an enlightened move, lottery funding has helped to bring the National Football Museum to the centre of Manchester. Somewhat perturbed by my better half’s childhood memories of travelling to Preston to a cramped room next to their stadium, I can’t say I was expecting great things from a static exhibition of memorabilia with a no doubt heavy focus on Man United. Can you really make football exciting without actually playing it? How wrong I was.

The very first sight that greeted us was a temporary exhibition of artefacts and images from the 125 year history of the Northern League - a sight that would have had my father-in-law transfixed (had he been with us that day) as a sporting lad from Bishop Auckland. Refreshingly there was a distinct lack of London bias throughout the museum. Rich history and mementos from Wigan Athletic and Sheffield United were right up there in their own sections - each team treated with complete respect and reverence whether they’ve ever played in the Premier League or not. Rattles, autograph books, annuals and football cards are displayed like holy relics, precious talismans that most of the kids couldn’t believe their own fathers could remember. My favourite was either a GI Joe version of George Best, complete with sideburns and scar, or a set of neatly handwritten letters that he’d sent to his Mam while he was away training.

Of course there had to be an interactive side to the experience. Kids are using iPads instinctively before they can form sentences, and this is a sport we’re talking about after all. The museum is completely free to enter but some of the activities are pay per play. You can expect to pay £4 to take part in a 2 minute penalty shoot-out but if it’s enough to keep the place going you can’t really complain. There are interactive quizzes and polls scattered throughout the place that are free though and cover everything from stadium stats and the art of commentary to deeper philosophical questions about the development of the FA rule book.

The museum also didn’t shy away from the darker side of the sport. A film tribute to British football disasters was a poignant tribute to victims from all over the country, as well as a focus in one section on racism on and off the pitch. As a family attraction you might have forgiven them for sticking to the light and fluffy side of football, but it was an opportunity for parents and grandparents to talk to their kids about the wider issues that was classily done.

References to Sunderland make vague and fleeting appearances, which does make you wonder considering the amount of stuff we must all have tucked away in the attic/cellar/garden shed. The 1895 painting vs Villa is replicated on a mural wall of course, and if you’re feeling flush you can get a 1973 FA Cup Final replica hat for £60. The best bit was the infamous Liverpool beach ball. Ridiculous how £1 worth of plastic can inspire awe in grown ups.

I think the highlight had to be a 7 minute film in a purpose built panoramic cinema. Despite it being the Easter holidays it seemed the younger ones were not drawn to it and so we sat there alone in the dark while the film began to roll. ‘Our Beautiful Game’ shows one month in the life of English football and cuts shots of Rooney with those down the pub, the women’s league, Wallsend Boys Club, inner city London kids playing on their street… just about anyone playing football anywhere. We sat with tears streaming down our faces as we realised just how united this beautiful game does make us. And all this for free. Magical.

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Fans’ POTY awards should surprise no one!
Well, they were voted for by fans…

It’s that time of year once more, as players and fans alike vote for the players they think have outshone the rest. At Sunderland AFC, the fans’ choices for Player and Young Player of the Year are hard to argue with. Goalkeeper Vito Mannone has had an excellent season filling the boots of Simon Mignolet, and picked up the POTY award for his consistency throughout the season over Adam Johnson’s blistering few weeks of form. Mannone said: “To win this prize now is a dream come true and another great achievement for me this season. But I want to end the season in a really good way, and try to get us to survive. That would be a massive present. I’m praying every day that we give our best in the last bit, in the last four games. I think we can make it now and it would be something unbelievable to be a Premier League goalkeeper again. I hope we can stay up because from where we were, we deserve it, even if we have made some mistakes in games. In general, we started from October- November to realise what we could do after the gaffer came in. We showed it in the cup run, showed it in some big games. There’s four games to go and it’s in our hands again. It’s been an amazing season, but this club deserves it. The fans have been brilliant.”

As for the Young Player award, rarely does a player on loan for a season endear themselves quite as much to the fans as Fabio Borini has to SAFC. The Italian forward has scored against both Manchester teams, Chelsea, Southampton, as well as two against the Tyneside rivals that really put him over with the Wearside crowd. All his goals bar one have helped Sunderland avoid defeat, and the 23-year-old tweeted: “Thanks so much to everyone who voted me the "young @SAFCofficial player of the year" award. Was such an honour and great to meet everyone.”

On our chances of survival, Borini had this to add: “We've got some points that we desperately needed,” said Borini. “With just four games left, we can really believe now. We've never given up. After the Tottenham defeat, it was hard to believe we could do it and I'm sure a lot of people took it for granted that we would be going down. But we never felt that, and we have shown in the last two games that there's a lot of fight in us yet.”

Connor Wickham has also weighed in on the goals in the last two weeks, and along with Borini has help secure some vital points for the Black Cats. “Of course I'm pleased with my goals and I'm pleased to be able to show everyone what I'm capable of, but I'm not going to get overly excited or get carried away. There's still a lot of hard work to do and there's four tough games ahead of us - we need to keep up these performances. The dressing room was buzzing after the win at Chelsea; we were all delighted. That's two solid performances - three if you include the Everton game - that have given us the break we needed. We knew Chelsea needed the points as they're pushing for the title; the points were just as important for us as we're pushing to get out of the bottom. On the day we had more grit and determination to see the game out and I think we deserved the win. We controlled most of the game and our hard work paid off. Now it's about maintaining this level of performance and be ready to go again next week.”

Gus Poyet has enthused about Borini this season, and has pledged to provide a glowing reference if other managers want an assessment of his worth. “He's got absolutely everything that you need as a professional football player,” said the Sunderland boss. “It's a pleasure to have him at the club. I would recommend him to anyone in the world because he's a top, top professional. You can have a discussion about what is his best position, and you can like him more or less as a player (in certain roles). He can play up front or wide, and they are decisions that we make. But as a professional, he's an absolute pleasure to have around.”

Finally, Alfred N’Diaye is unsure about his future at the Stadium of Light, having been loaned out to Eskisehirspor and Real Betis this season. “My future? I'm fine here in Seville, but I do not know what will happen in the future. I really do not know if I will stay, it’s something you have to talk to the clubs about because I have not heard anything,” he told the Spanish press. “I belong to Sunderland and those teams have to reach an agreement first because my contract is there. I do not know what will happen next year, if I will continue in England or Spain. I’m comfortable here at the club (Betis) in the city. I like what I found here but I do not know what will happen in the future. Betis will remain a great club even in the second division. Going down can be a step backwards, but not as much at Betis. But first the clubs have to talk.”

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An Impartial View on the Relegation run-in: Fulham
By Darren Hyland

For the next five days on als.com I, an impartial (and this season, suffering) Manchester/Carlisle United fan, will be looking at the bottom five teams in the top tier, and their chances on seeing Premier League football next season.

Today sees 19th placed Fulham under the spotlight. Under new boss Felix Magath the Londoners have got themselves back in with a real chance of surviving with back to back wins against Norwich and Aston Villa.
The notoriously fiery German has made his managerial career out of guiding relegation-threatened sides to improbable success, and with three very winnable games to go this season, Fulham fans can sense a late revival:

Hull (H) 26.04.14
Steve Bruce’s Hull team are currently lying in 14th, and will feel they are likely safe with a couple more points. Couple that with an FA Cup final that is sure to be on the players’ minds, and Fulham have a real chance.
A dangerous front two of Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic will be Hull’s biggest assets for their remaining Premier League games, as both are cup tied and will miss Wembley. City have other potential match winners in Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore, so despite their safe position and cup final on the horizon, three points aren’t guaranteed for Fulham.
Hugo Rodallega has been in this position before with Wigan, and I think he is Fulham’s best option for the goals that will keep them up.
Final score: Fulham 1-0 Hull

Stoke (A) 03.05.14

Mark Hughes has done a terrific job at The Britannia, moving The Potters into 10th and Hughes into the discussion for Manager of the Year.
This season they have looked slightly more vulnerable at home, but their last two results were more typically ground out 1-0s, against Newcastle and Hull. They have the potential to sparkle up front with Peter Odemwingie and the unpredictable but gifted Marko Arnautovic.
As with most of the teams with nothing to play for, Stoke’s last three games will be tough to predict, but they will always pose a test for any side struggling for goals like Fulham.
Fulham need points, but their other two games look like the ones to pick up wins from. Stoke have had a very good season by all accounts, and should be too much for Magath’s troops.
Final score: Stoke 2-0 Fulham

Crystal Palace (H) 11.05.14

Palace, like Stoke, have had an excellent year and are going to be playing Premier League football next season. They have shown to be by far the most equipped of the newly promoted sides to deal with the top tier.
While Fulham’s final opponents are on a five game winning run, the fixture list may hand Magath a lifeline. By the time the final day of the season comes around Palace will have welcomed both Manchester City and Liverpool to Selhurst Park.
If Fulham come into the final round of games needing a win, they could see their charge fall at the final hurdle. They have looked more focused since the new manager came in however, and I expect them to pull out a result for their famed disciplinarian.
Final score: Fulham 2-1 Crystal Palace
Final points tally: 36

Now on their third manager of the season, Fulham will finish above Sunderland if my predictions prove to be accurate. Whether or not that will be enough to beat two more teams to safety remains to be seen.

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god we might just stop up...
if we turn up against cardiff

Gus Poyet has called on Sunderland fans to fill the Stadium of Light on Sunday for what should be a highly-charged atmosphere against Cardiff. “I want our stadium to be sold out this Sunday,” he said. “These are the games now – it has to be make or break – and I want everyone to give everything, including the fans. We have to fight for Sunderland. I’m the same as a manager as I was a player, I never give up, not until the whistle, and I expect everyone else at Sunderland to be the same.”

With the huge win over Chelsea giving us a chance of survival, Poyet knows that performances need to improve against the teams around them at the bottom. “Every time we play the top teams we play well, but not the bottom ones. Why? I would think it is probably because against the top teams, we accept we are the smaller team. And because we accept that, we feel no pressure in those games and we play our very best football. But against the others, the ones around us, the pressure is on us and we find that a challenge. It is a problem and it is something we need to address.”

Meanwhile, Poyet’s opposite number on Sunday, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, also sees this game as the potential relegation decider. "This is a proper cup final and will probably determine it [relegation] but it depends on other results as well. It's a massive game for us and we will prepare as if it's the last game we will ever play but it will mean the same for both sides. We'll probably need five points to give ourselves a chance. I don't think 34 will be enough, 35 might be, 36 I think will be."

In other news, Poyet says Lee Cattermole is a player who has embodied the spirit in the camp this season, and deserves his place in the side, even if there have been questions raised over a disciplinary record which is spattered with yellow and red cards. “Lee is a player who has had a certain reputation but he has been superb for me,” Poyet said. “He has been exceptional. Positive. Every time fit. He has been organising others and keeping them right, he has been available and playing all the time.”

“What is the problem?” Poyet asked. “That he will get sent off one day? Yeah? Well me too, and Roy Keane, and Dennis Wise, and Paul Scholes - it’s the character of certain players; they are going to get a red card. It’s just a question of making sure they don’t get too many red cards because if they do, that’s a problem, because then you’re missing too many games. If he gets sent off too often, another player will get to play three games, and if they play those three games and win them, he will struggle to get back into the side. But I need strong committed players at my club and Lee Cattermole is one of them. It’s just important for him to keep playing like he’s playing but look to avoid too many reds - which he is showing signs of doing. He has been influential for us in games and everyone knows he is a player who will never give up. The Lee I know - not the Lee others talk about - the Lee I know, has been great and he can be very important for us in these remaining few games.”

Cattermole himself has also weighed in on the focus of the dressing room, saying celebrations at Stamford Bridge were not allowed to overshadow the rest of the season. “We had a celebration in the dressing room, but it probably lasted for about a minute and then we pulled ourselves back together and said, 'This isn't finished yet',” said Cattermole. “As a group, I think we all recognised straight away that the hard work has to start here. It was a great result and it's nice to have made that bit of history by being the first team to win at Chelsea (under Mourinho), but it'll count for absolutely nothing if we don't follow it up. We're going to have to get quite a few points yet if we're going to stay up, and that's the only thing we're focusing on now. Everybody has been writing us off, but inside those four walls we've always believed and that's one thing we've always got to fall back on. We've got a really strong belief, and that's never disappeared. We don't let anything knock us down, and we've come back from setbacks all season. We've given ourselves a real chance, and hopefully we'll go on and finish the job. We've picked most of our points up against the top teams, so at the start of last week we said, 'If that's the way we're going to do this, stay up by beating the top teams, then that's what will have to happen'. Inside the dressing room, we always knew we were capable of it. But we only got three points at the weekend and we're going to need quite a few more. We can't get carried away – this just has to be the start of it. It gives everyone a big lift, and I'm sure the city will be buzzing in the build up to Sunday's game, but as a group of lads, we need to get back to work and go again.”

Meanwhile, Wes Brown has been full of praise for in form striker Connor Wickham, with the 21-year-old hitting three goals in two games to take points from Manchester City and Chelsea. Brown said: “He’s been brilliant for us. I think the two goals at Manchester City have obviously helped him and he went to Chelsea very confident. He’s only a young lad, but he’s a big, strong lad. If he gets the best out of his ability, he’s going to be some player. He’s on a high at the moment and hopefully we can keep providing him with the goals. He’s been on loan to a few different clubs. Even when he’s been here, he’s not really started, only had one or two games. But the gaffer has decided to put him in and he has repaid him. He wants to play football and you can see the ability he’s got. But sometimes young players just need a bit of guidance and time. You can see what he’s shown over the last few games.”

The Chelsea result puts Sunderland firmly in the mix for safety, and Brown says the City draw gave his side the confidence to go again against Mourinho’s men. “It was a great result for us and gives us a massive chance now. We’ve been putting a lot of work into the last few games and we knew going to Chelsea that if we could put in the same performance we put in against City, we’d have a chance. We went behind again, but at the time, I thought we still played and put a lot of pressure on them and managed to get the goal from Connor. From there on, we just tried to defend as tight as we could and managed to get the penalty in the end.”

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An Impartial View: Relegation run-in, Sunderland...
By Darren Hyland

For the next five days on als.com I, an impartial (and this season, suffering) Manchester/Carlisle United fan, will be looking at the bottom five teams in the top tier, and their chances on seeing Premier League football next season.

The first of my relegation-related blog posts focuses on the bottom club, Sunderland. As at least 99% of readers on this site will know, the Black Cats have taken four points from games against Manchester City and Chelsea in the last two weeks to put them back in the mix.

The 2-2 draw against City – which could so easily have been three points – came after five defeats on the bounce, and with a game in hand over most of their rivals at the bottom, Sunderland fans can begin to dream of a truly miraculous escape.

Three of the Black Cats’ last four matches are at home, with a trip to a troubled Old Trafford their only away day. Here I am going to take a look at those fixtures, and my predictions for Sunderland’s points tally:

Cardiff (H) 27.04.14
It’s all very well and good ending Jose Mourinho’s 77-game undefeated home record, but when Sunderland come up against low-table scrappers like Cardiff, they tend to look a little less convincing.

While the Wearsiders have pushed Chelsea, Liverpool and both Manchester clubs to their limits and beyond this season, they have struggled to grab the initiative in the really winnable games. I fear that this will come back to plague them again against a fighting, if slightly bonkers, Cardiff.

The score will be a difficult one to predict, with both teams struggling for firepower up front, and because of this I am going for a tight win for Sunderland, who seem to thrive with their backs against the wall.

Final score: Sunderland 1-0 Cardiff

Manchester United (A) 03.05.14
Today’s rumour mill surrounding the future of David Moyes at Manchester United may swing one way or the other as far as Sunderland are concerned. The current champions have had a torrid season on their own ground, and it is their home form that has cost them any shot at the top four.

However, a new man at the helm for the remainder of the season could have a Di Canio-like effect on United. If someone like Ryan Giggs ends up in temporary charge come May 3, Sunderland may actually find it more difficult than if Moyes keeps his job.

The season’s past meetings between the clubs offer encouragement for the visitors. Sunderland ran United very close in the reverse fixture in the league, denied a point by a terrific Adnan Januzaj volley. Sunderland then went on to set up a Wembley date with United’s city rivals by knocking Moyes’ men out of the League Cup in a dramatic, penalty-missing affair.

Despite all this, I think United’s recent upturn in form – Everton excluded – will be enough to resign the Black Cats to defeat.

Final score: Man Utd 2-0 Sunderland

West Brom (H) 07.05.14
West Brom are by no means safe as things stand – a result against Manchester City tonight could change that – but they are a dangerous side to come up against at this stage of the season. They are beginning to find some joy from the likes of ex-Sunderland playmaker Stephane Sessegnon, and will be a stern test at the SoL.

The Baggies should have beaten Tottenham in their last match before the time of writing this, and will be favourites when they visit the North East. With the likes of Vydra and Brunt finding the net recently their goals tally is shared right around the team. Set pieces will be a danger, but if Sunderland can pen them in for decent periods they have a mistake in them at the back.

This is another tough one to call. The visitors have the quality over their hosts, but Sunderland will be spurred on if they match my prediction against Cardiff. I fancy West Brom to sneak past, but not without a scare or two in this one.

Final score: Sunderland 2-3 West Brom

Swansea (H) 11.05.14
Swansea are relatively safe after a last minute penalty secured three points against Newcastle, and should be clear of the bottom three by the last week.

Sunderland will still need a result from this game in my opinion, and as such will be going all out for three precious points.

Swansea’s main threat comes on the break, as they showed with 10 men against Chelsea, and the likes of Wayne Routledge, Nathan Dyer and striker Wilfried Bony will give Sunderland’s defence a real test if they start.

I expect the home side to start with most of their attacking players in this one, with three points a must on a nervy last day. This means they need huge performances from their back line against a free flowing Swans attack. On a dramatic final day I can see a home win setting up a mighty struggle for that 17th place.

Final score: Sunderland 2-1 Swansea

Final points tally: 35
Six points from four games may well be enough to see Sunderland pull off the greatest of escapes, but no result is easy in the Premier League, and Gus Poyet’s men will be relying on others losing matches to stand a chance of staying up.

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back in with a shout…
maddest season ever

Stamford Bridge match-winner Fabio Borini knows that he will have a lot more admirers back at his parent club Liverpool, after his penalty handed the Reds a crucial advantage in the race for the Premier League title. The Italian, who shared a warm handshake with Mourinho at the start of the second half, said: "My first thoughts are on Sunderland, that's the shirt I'm wearing. The Tottenham defeat was probably a punch in the face – it woke us up and turned it over for us. When miracles happen it’s because people always believe. Obviously I watch the Liverpool games and I'm happy if they win and play well but my first thoughts are with Sunderland. I need to think about myself, the past is the past. There was a chance to take the penalty, I took the last two penalties and I took this one."

With fellow strugglers Cardiff City the visitors to the Stadium of Light next Sunday, Borini has urged his teammates to continue their fine run of form against Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side. "We got out of two difficult games with four points and nobody expected us to win any," he added. "Against Man City we could have gone away with three points - that was probably the turning point. Cardiff is a bigger game than this one against Chelsea because now it's all about winning games and we believe we can do it."

Gus Poyet took a considered stance to Mourinho's reaction to losing and the penalty awarded in Sunderland’s record breaking 2-1 win at Stamford Bridge on Saturday: "If it was against me, I would do the same," said the Uruguayan. “Emotion, key moment in the season, it could be the key moment for the title, that one. When it's for you, you feel you can see why he gave it. Especially the linesman, with Azpilicueta going down. But if it was against me, in a situation like that, I would have been fuming, for sure. I saw it on the computer and I understand why they can be talking if it was (a penalty) or not. It's very difficult. I never, ever would expect to get a penalty here. Ever. To be the first team somehow to beat Mourinho’s Chelsea at home is a privilege – and a little bit of mixed emotions. I played here and I know how important this game was for them. What I have done to their title hopes is bad, but I’m sorry – I was just doing my best for Sunderland, I cannot do anything different. I hope I will feel less guilty if Chelsea go on to win the Champions League, because I am still good friends with everybody here, and I would like them to keep winning. But for us, this cannot be a false dawn. All my life, the way I play football, the way I coach and the way I’m going to be for the rest of my life, you fight to the end. I said we needed a miracle after we lost at Tottenham, and I was right. You don’t think that was a miracle? If we want to have a chance to do something special – we’ll call it a miracle – now we need to go on and believe we can do it.”
 
Poyet believes Sunderland’s impressive record against the top four this season is because they are better equipped to soak up pressure when they are not expected to win. He added: “The way we play and the way we defend, we feel very comfortable when we know the opposition is dramatically better than us. But in games where you need to change completely, because people expect you to take the initiative, in those situations we have really struggled.”

Meanwhile, Vito Mannone reckons we need to seize this unexpected opportunity to stay up with both hands. “When you go off the end of the world and then come back with great achievements like Chelsea, it gives you a massive boost. Now we need to use that boost. We’re right in the battle and we won’t give up until the end. Whether we stay up or go down, we need to battle until the end for this club. There’s four games to go and we’ve got one more than the others which we need to use. We need to go into every game with the same mentality of winning. In the last two, somehow, I thought even if we were 1-0 down, we still believed it. We won’t give up, we want to do something special and to come out of this would be a miracle. Why not do it? We can’t be too much over the moon. We need to stay humble and play in the same way we did in the last two games. But now, it’s again in our hands. I would say thanks to the fans first because they’ve been brilliant to me all season. I’ve tried to repay them every game. I’ve been a bit down lately because it’s never easy when the team struggles a little bit. It’s not easy to keep on top of your form, but I’ve tried my best and they’ve probably seen that. I need to say a big thank you to everyone at the football club; my team-mates have been brilliant to me in the last few days too. The coaching staff backed me to the end and gave me the 

Gus Poyet wants the fans to turn up the volume at the SOL next weekend when Cardiff come to town. Fair play, I'm sure we will. “I want our stadium to be sold out this Sunday. These are the games now – it has to be make or break – and I want everyone to give everything, including the fans. We have to fight for Sunderland. I’m the same as a manager as I was a player, I never give up, not until the whistle, and I expect everyone else at Sunderland to be the same. If you do that, you have a chance, and we did that at Chelsea – my players were tired afterwards, very tired, but it was great to see the smiles on their faces. Now we have to carry it on into our next few games and I want the Stadium of Light to be an amazing place to be this weekend, full up to the top by our fans. Sometimes, the media kill goalkeepers. As soon as you make one mistake, you are the villain. Thankfully I could show something on Saturday that I’ve got a big heart for this club and I want to fight for them.”

Midfielder David Vaughan has agreed to join Nottingham Forest on a permanent basis when his loan deal comes to an end on June 30. The 31-year-old joined Forest last October and has made seven appearances for the club. He has recently returned from a knee injury. Vaughan signed for Sunderland in summer 2011 and has featured in 59 games for the club, scoring three goals. The midfielder began his career with Crewe and had a short spell in Spain with Real Sociedad before moving to Blackpool, from whom he joined us. Prior to his switch to Sunderland in 2011, Vaughan played for Crewe Alexandra, Real Sociedad and Blackpool.

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post chelsea craic…
REACTION

With four games to Gus Poyet reckons we're still in with a shout of staying up. This is mental, but true!: "I think with us, Sunderland, this year anything can happen. It can go either way. When no-one expects anything from us, we get a result from Manchester City and now we beat Chelsea here. In a good way, I think, because there was not too much difference between the two teams, apart from the shots from distance. Today we got the breaks that for some reason have been going against us. The talking in the dressing room was that we'd rather play Real Madrid next Sunday and not Cardiff. It's the way we play and feel more comfortable. We feel we are, between brackets, the modest team we feel more secure. We can be calm. Sometimes when you play at home against teams around you have to take the initiative. We are a little bit hurried and don't control the game."

Poyet also reckoned that the penalty decision could have gone either way: "It was very, very tough on the referee," he said. "Every now and then you get it and every now and then you don't. It was the linesman who gave it straight away. We can talk about it for ages and even then we don't know for sure. We need to give the benefit of the doubt to the referee."

And the Uruguayan wasn't finished there: We battled for everything out there today. There have been times in recent games where things have gone against us; own goals, red cards, but this game has showed if you can get a break you can do something important. Everything went for us today and we’ve show that the players will continue to believe and fight for this club. We needed to do something special today and we did it, we’ve broken a record and that will make the headlines for the next couple of days. We were confident on the ball; we passed when we could, we defended, we ran; the players were all over the place. We took a risk naming the same side having had a tough game on Wednesday and some of them struggled but battled on; great credit to them. Some people maybe thought we had no chance today but we’ve given the fans a day to remember. Brendan Rodgers may well be thanking Fabio Borini for his goal and I think I’ll be getting a few text messages too, but what we did, we did for ourselves.”

In other news, John O’Shea admitted that Gus Poyet had used Jose Mourinho’s unbeaten home record as a line in his team talk: “Have a guess what the manager’s team talk was?” said O’Shea. “Be that team. Be that team to beat that record. Why not. What’s the headline going to be in the morning? Mourinho loses his record. We’re the team that caused it and the manager as always deserves a lot of credit.”

And goalscorer, Fabio Borini, had this to say about his super confident penalty success: "That's why you take penalties, because you are confident and you see a goal. It was three points for the game and obviously Chelsea were up for the league and we showed that we have great character and great belief."

Quotes and comments to follow...

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Say Hello to my Little Friend
By Graeme Atkinson

Once again we find our old friend relegation looms over SAFC like the metaphorical football bully ready to steal our club’s Premier League status. The status SAFC has clung onto for the past 7 years. At a time when Head Coach Gus Poyet appears to be distancing himself from any long term commitment to the club if he does not get his way, how do we even begin to see any positives going forward?

One way of approaching the situation would be to accept that we need to take a step back to start moving forward again, ensuring there is a root and branch review of the club’s infrastructure. You may recall talk of these root and branch reviews around the time of, whisper it, Steve, ‘I finished 10th’ Bruce’s’ management. These sort of self analytical processes are only effective if you replace the issues highlighted with workable solutions, otherwise you simply end up replacing one of set of problems with different problems. Talk is cheap and for supporters who have been around the block with SAFC previously, it’s likely they will hold the position of ‘I’ve heard it all before.’

However it’s clear something should be done, something needs to be done. Picking up on Poyet’s own recent words in relation to ascertaining what the problem is, "I don't know," said Poyet. "It's too many things. I always say to myself, what happened with Brucie [Steve Bruce] in the second year? What happened with Martin O'Neill? What happened with Di Canio? And what happens with me now? I don't want to get away from the responsibility, because I am responsible. I am the first one. But who is going to be next? You can call him anything and the club will be in the same situation.”

As strange as it might sound can we speculate from this quote and from the last sentence specifically, that Poyet knows exactly what the problems are at the club but is keeping his counsel until he has had a chance to sit down with SAFC Chairman Ellis Short?

Further quotes attributed to Poyet go onto say, “You can describe that meeting (with Short presumably) as make it or break it.” It is difficult to imagine anyone with some intelligence and the sort of privileges and access Poyet will have at the club would not have at least a very good idea of what the difficulties are. Whether Poyet is in any position to be able to do anything about these challenges is a different question entirely. Therefore if we were in a blame game perhaps a proportion of it could be levied at the club’s Board. Just like any job up and down the country and across the globe for that matter, those with the absolute power will be untouchable when challenged. Poyet could be absolutely clear on what SAFCs problems are but if those making the important decisions at the club are partly to blame for them is this something they would be willing to accept or even listen to? After all, turkeys don’t vote for Christmas.

Let’s start at the top and work down. Perhaps Ellis Short needs to take a long look in the mirror and question some of his decisions. The sacking of Martin O’Neill, the subsequent appointment and sacking of Paolo Di Canio, the recruitment of Roberto De Fanti; all of these decisions have caused many to question whether the ship is being steered in the right and proper manner. However what does not seem to be in question is Ellis Short’s love of the club. While some of his judgments could be questioned his commitment cannot. Is it a coincidence that our fortunes have wavered since Quinn’s departure from the club? Was he the voice of reason in Ellis’ ear influencing a more calm and reasoned approach with the added benefit of a footballing brain? Whether you believe this, Quinn is a massive miss to SAFC and his departure continues to leave a gaping chasm within our club.

Next up, the scouting network and Director of Football. Let's be honest it doesn't appear to be working so far does it? I can understand the merits of having some stability at that level given the rate we have gone through managers over recent years. The theory behind the idea is to maintain a level of consistency even if the Head Coach moves on. Indeed it has worked at other clubs and the 'Udinese model' continues to be adopted across all European leagues. Will Poyet stick around if he remains as Head Coach instead of in the more traditional manager role? I'm not sure he will. However surely we can't keep chopping and changing the structure that underpins the whole football club. The most important matter is to agree on the ideology and then ensure the correct building blocks are put in place. Whether this will end up including new SAFC Director of Football Lee Congerton long term remains to be seen.

The youth system/development squad also needs to be scrutinised surely too. Supporters have seen Colback and Henderson emerge and push on to become solid players with the latter moving for a huge transfer fee. There are one or two others who are currently showing promise but cannot get near the first team. In an ideal world we need kids coming through the ranks on a regular basis, a conveyor belt of talent. There needs to be a joined up approach between the development squad and the first team. At the moment I'm not sure there is.

Now, the first team squad unquestionably have to come under the greatest scrutiny of all. We were led to believe at the start of the current season Paolo Di Canio was a dictator figure who ruled with fear and was prone to inappropriate outbursts. However I have to say that quite a lot of his observations now seem more on the money than some of us would have cared to admit at the time. Lack of professionalism, individual mistakes, lack of desire, etc? Some of us I'm sure would recognise these traits in the team still. Players cannot blame Di Canio now he's no longer at the club. Perhaps Di Canio had the right ideas but just tried to implement them in the wrong way.

If I was Ellis Short I would prefer to see Poyet emerge with far more control over the running of the club. Back room staff and Congerton should be delegated duties by him to free up his time to concentrate on first team affairs rather than him being dictated to by them. It's clear from previous quotes that SAFC does not see the structure working that way at the moment but Poyet's recent comments and body language suggest otherwise.

Slightly more controversially what about us, the fans? We have had good cause to bemoan the results and performances this season. However Poyet's brand of football does not seem to have been universally bought into by the supporters. Playing out from the back, and stroking the ball around, nervously on occasion, can appear to lack that immediate penetration some demand. Many a time I have heard large sections of our support scream 'forward!' And the vitriol that spews from the stands at times has to negatively impact on performances, players are only human.

So, to the future, I think the majority accept we will be relegated. Let's invest in the youth development squad, let's ensure we have the right people doing the right jobs. The due diligence around this needs to be far more robust. Let's allow Poyet what he needs to make the club a success but remember that may not mean giving him everything he wants. Let's get rid of the players who do not want to play for the club, lack the desire to make an impact for the supporters but most importantly, once we see the building blocks being put in place within the club let’s all get behind the team and try and keep our frustrations from influencing the way the team we all love performs on a Saturday at 3pm. Dare to dream. Things can only get better...

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