GUS POYET has revealed keeping Sunderland in the Premier League would be the greatest achievement of his career.
The Black Cats need a single point from their remaining two games to secure their top-flight status for another season with the first opportunity to do so coming in tonight’s game with West Brom at the Stadium of Light.
Only a matter of weeks ago, the Wearsiders looked destined for the Championship going into a run of games against Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United, but having taken seven points from those teams and beaten Cardiff City, Poyet’s side are now favourites to stay up.
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For a man that was used to competing in the higher reaches of the Premier League at Chelsea and Tottenham, Poyet has found himself in unfamiliar waters and given the club’s position when he arrived in October – they had taken one point from seven games under Paolo Di Canio – the Uruguayan admits keeping Sunderland up will be a special feeling.
“From when I've been brought into the club, yes it has been a success,” Poyet said.
“For me in particular it will definitely be my biggest achievement. I have no doubt because it's been difficult, I can tell you that.
“It was becoming more and more difficult. When we had ten games left the idea was to win four but then you go six without and it’s more difficult.
“We hadn’t won three games in a row all season but we have done it now and in style at Chelsea and Old Trafford and against Cardiff, which was probably the biggest game of all.
“If you said to me before the City game that we would be here talking like this I would have said you had been drinking heavily before you came. It’s incredible. We can use different words but the last four games have been amazing.
“Any stage of the season it would be incredible but that’s why it is so important to finish the game somehow.
“It will feel like we’ve won something. Normally you don’t celebrate when you finish 16th in the league. We will.”
With a far superior goal difference to 18th-placed Norwich City a point from their final two games would be enough for the Black Cats.
Given the form they are in and the teams they have left to play (West Brom and Swansea) compared to the Canaries, who face Arsenal, Sunderland are in the driving seat. However, having watched Crystal Palace come from three-nil down to draw 3-3 with Liverpool on Monday night, Poyet insists his side must not let their concentration slip.
He said: “You can talk about all situations. You can look at West Brom, Swansea and Arsenal. You never know with these teams whether they are going to perform. “Arsenal know where they are going to finish and people will think they will be thinking about the cup and will relax against Norwich.
“The same can be said about Swansea and West Brom. If you gave me an option of playing a team under pressure or a team that is relaxed, I don’t know which I would pick. It can go either way. We need to concentrate again and not change what we do. It is time to finish the job and then we can analyse.
“Maybe another point will get us there but it shows how competitive the league is. When you think you're safe you're not and if you only need a point you might not make it.
“It happens to so many teams and I was talking to people a few weeks ago and they were convinced the team that had more options would stay up and that was Fulham.
Football is like that. You can look at things on paper but then it would be easy. Everyone would bet on it and win! Nobody wins!”
Should his side secure their safety tonight or on Sunday, Poyet admits it won’t be time for him to relax just yet.
The Black Cats head coach revealed the first thing he will do once their safety is assured will be to speak to each player about their futures at the club before he even thinks about taking some time off.
“There are so many things to do,” he said. “I don’t know where I am going to start. Depending on Wednesday or Sunday, the first thing I will address is the players. There are plenty of players that have been in a tricky situation without contracts. They have been playing, fighting, suffering and playing through pain.
“I think they deserve my first spare time. That will be my first move. Then, I suppose it will be pre-season and maybe a little bit of relaxing with the wife because she’s going to kill me as well.”