Allardyce wants Sunderland to shed escape artists tag

Sunderland (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce steeled the club for a crucial close season as they bid to end their reputation as Premier League relegation escape specialists.

Allardyce hailed the club’s “miraculous” effort to secure their top-flight future with a game to spare after a 3-0 victory over Everton on Wednesday condemned neighbours Newcastle United and Norwich City to join Aston Villa in the Championship next season.

Allardyce’s future would have been uncertain had Sunderland failed to upset the odds by clambering out of the bottom three for a fourth season in a row.

But after guaranteeing a 10th consecutive Premier League campaign, the 61-year-old said that he was relishing the challenge of helping to ensure “great escapes” become a thing of the past.

“We’re safe with a game left and that’s pretty miraculous,” Allardyce said.

“I’m relieved to go to Vicarage Road (to play Watford) with nothing on the line. Yes, I am staying next season, but a club like this can’t be cheering and doing a lap of honour just for escaping from relegation.”

The January additions of midfielders Wahbi Khazri and Jan Kirchhoff, and Ivory Coast defender Lamine Kone — who scored twice as Roberto Martinez’s side were comprehensively beaten — have proved crucial in Sunderland’s latest successful survival bid.

– ‘Great relief’ –

Former Newcastle manager Allardyce added: “From January, we’ve been a team. Our signings in that window have proved crucial and now the next set of recruitment over the summer is just as important.

“We’ve secured the financial side of things by staying in the division. That puts us on a par with all the other clubs in the Premier League next season. The important thing now is that spend the money wisely on players.

“This season is the worst season you could ever get relegated, with the £5 billion ($7.2 billion, 6.3 billion euros) TV deal kicking in, so we’ve secured massive revenue levels the club has never seen before and it’s a great relief to the staff that there won’t be any cutbacks.

“They’ve said ‘never again’ the past three seasons here after escaping from relegation, and that has to happen this time. 

“There were some grim days in December, with five defeats in a row, and the only way forward was to get into the market in January. That was the only way we could survive.”

Allardyce said that relegating his old club Newcastle did not hold any greater satisfaction and revealed that he had used the words of his predecessor, Dick Advocaat, as motivation for his squad after the departing Dutchman tipped Sunderland for relegation in October.

“What’s sweet is proving Dick wrong,” Allardyce said.

– Advocaat motivation –

“It was a challenge for me when he said this team was going to get relegated. I’ve got the utmost respect for him and I’m not criticising him, but I’ve used that as motivation for the players.”

Beleaguered Martinez brushed off questions over his future after Everton again succumbed to defeat, sparked by Patrick van Aanholt’s 38th-minute free-kick.

The Goodison Park side are in free-fall after one win in their last 10 games and cannot now secure a top-half finish. 

The Spaniard admits that they have found it difficult to come to terms with their FA Cup semi-final exit to Manchester United last month.

“It was a tough result for us to take because we started well, but we didn’t have too much in the final third,” he said.

“We fought for every ball and put in a lot of effort. What we focus on now is the final game on Sunday (at home to Norwich City).

“All you have to do is prepare for the next game and try to get the win. The players gave everything they had, but since we played in the semi-final, it’s been difficult to get that intensity in the league.”

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