GUSTAVO POYET has pledged to walk away from Sunderland if his players give up on their relegation fight in the final eight games of the season.
The Black Cats' survival hopes suffered a major blow as they crashed to a 2-1 home defeat to West Ham, a result that leaves them four points adrift of safety ahead of a run of four successive games against teams in the top six positions in the table.
Sunderland have failed to win any of their last six league games, and have only picked up four points since the start of February.
Nevertheless, Poyet insists it is much too early to be writing off his side's survival chances, with the Sunderland boss pledging to ensure his players continue to give their all in the games that remain.
“If my team give up, I will leave,” said Poyet. “Nobody needs to sack me, I will leave on my own. If you see this team giving up before the end of the season, then you won't see me here.
“I need to convince the players to keep doing it, and defend this club to the end. To the last minute. We have to try our best, and then if everyone does the same, who goes down? The worst three teams in the league.
“You can still be the worst, but you need to try your best, give it your best shot, and play the best way you can play.
“It is not possible to see one of my teams giving up. It's going to go to the end, that's for sure. The idea is not to give up. We still have a chance, and we want to go right to the end.”
Last night's defeat looked inevitable from the moment Andy Carroll out-jumped John O'Shea to head West Ham into a ninth-minute lead.
Mohamed Diame's deflected second-half strike doubled the Hammers' advantage, and while Sunderland rallied after Adam Johnson pulled a goal back midway through the second half, the visitors held on.
Despite their second-half improvement, the Black Cats lacked pace and invention throughout, but having been happy with his side's effort, Poyet claimed that a similar level of performance in the final eight games would still give them a chance of survival.
“If we play like we did against Liverpool and West Ham, we are going to have a great chance,” he said. “I am trying to be honest – that is what we are all about.
“If you are looking for something different, then you are looking in the wrong place or being unrealistic. We have convinced the players that we are not going to accept the 30 minutes against Norwich or the 20 minutes against Arsenal, and the rest of the performances have been them trying their best.
“We tried everything possible, and we're going to keep doing it to the end. We cannot complain about what the players have done today, because they tried everything. That's what we are, and hopefully we can get that little bit of luck or maybe that crucial decision from the referee.”
A crucial refereeing decision went against Sunderland last night, with referee Howard Webb failing to award a penalty despite the ball striking Kevin Nolan on the arm in the first half.
“It was clear, it was deliberate,” said Poyet. “He tried to play the ball with his hand. Howard was in a great position, so it's one where you need to ask the referee why he didn't give it.”
While Sunderland's relegation worries intensified, Sam Allardcye was able to declare his West Ham side as good as safe as they reached the 37-point mark.
The Hammers' form has been transformed since Carroll returned from injury last month, and Allardyce feels the North-Easterner still has enough time to force his way onto the plane to Brazil for this summer's World Cup finals.
“He's got six games to go, and if he keeps on scoring, he's going to be hard to ignore,” said Allardyce. “He's got two in the four games that he's played, and if he scores anything like as many as he did at the end of last season, when he scored eight in the last 12, he'll be pushing for a place.
“If he gets another three or four goals then it could be difficult for Roy Hodgson to ignore him. There's not a lot of players like him about, but he's got quality to go with his size and stature. It's not just his heading ability – he's got an all-round quality, with some great hold-up play from his chest. He's got a terrific shot on him, and of course he's superb in the air.”