GUS POYET is refusing to take a day off in his quest to steer Sunderland away from danger, despite the best efforts of his backroom staff.
Results over the weekend increased the gap to safety to four points, but it could have been six had Cardiff not snatched a late equaliser against West Brom.
Crystal Palace’s shock win over Chelsea also heightens the need for a Black Cats win tonight to stop them falling behind in the battle for survival.
Poyet missed his usual pre-match press conference because of a knee problem on Friday with first team coach Charlie Oatway standing in for the Uruguayan.
The Black Cats head coach has always said he will take responsibility for whatever position his side end up in at the end of the season, but Oatway admitted Poyet refuses to take a day away from the pressures of trying to maintain the club’s Premier League status.
“I do tell him to take a day,” Oatway said. “But he sees it as him and the players. What I mean is that if he doesn't want the players to go and have a round of golf, then he won't have one himself.
“I’ve said to him 'go and play nine holes' and relax. But he won't, because he won't let them do it. Hopefully we can stay up and he can have a nice break at the end of the season watching the World Cup.
“He's happy, he loves what he does and he loves working for this club. As long as him and (Mauricio) Taricco have a nice Italian restaurant near them, and can be back in their beds by 10pm then they're happy. They'll be the first ones in at 7.30am every morning.”
Poyet has been in a similar position before when he took over a Brighton side on the brink of relegation, but Oatway insists the pressure is higher when it comes to the Premier League.
The Uruguayan accepted the job to take over at the Stadium of Light when Sunderland were rock-bottom and five points adrift of safety, and Oatway admits the state of the club back then hasn’t helped.
“When we were at Brighton and he first came in we were fighting relegation,” the first-team coach said. “We stayed up and then won the league the next season. He started to build foundations for the club, even going down into the academy, looking at the Under-16s and 18s to build a way and means of how we play.
“When we cane in here there was issues going on in certain parts of the camp. He's had to deal with some of that as well. There's no difference to Gus, as far as he's concerned, he's dealing with 24 players, it's no different to him.
“The stakes are a lot higher in the Premier League and there are problems that come with being in the Premier League. Nothing fazes him, though, he just takes everything as it comes.
“It certainly didn't help (what happened before). We'd won one in seven, so it meant we had to do without seven games, which didn't help us. Since we came in we've managed to claw it back.
“We do have a chance. That's all we wanted to do, we wanted to have a fighting chance.”
Poyet is set to recall Adam Johnson and Ki Sung-Yeung, who both impressed from the bench after being left out of the starting line-up at Anfield.
Johnson’s form at the turn of the year was a big reason behind Sunderland’s improved position at the bottom and Oatway admits having any player hit that sort of form now could make the difference between staying up and not.
He said: “It's not a one-man band but the form that he showed and the goals he scored clawed some points back for us. If we have a player go through another bit of form like that, it could make the difference.
“When you are put on the bench, you need to come on and show that we're all in it together and give some sort of reaction. Both those players did that against Liverpool, as did Jack Colback.”
Sunderland have missed several opportunities to claim maximum points at home this season and Oatway admits the players must learn to relax in front of their home fans.
“The fans might not be so used to the style of football we want to play. We had it at Brighton when Gus first came in, the fans maybe didn't fully understand and they wanted us to play in a certain way.
“They wanted us to get it forward, sometimes as fans we all have to buy into a philosophy and the players are no different. Even when the fans are screaming 'get it forward' we've not asked them to get it forward, and there's no point if there's no one there to cross it into.
“There have been missed opportunities in games at home, but you could say the same about games away from home. We had a chance to equalise at Liverpool, but we didn't.”