HAVING called for a footballing miracle just a month ago, Gustavo Poyet last night claimed Sunderland's successful survival act would be “remembered forever” as one of the great Premier League achievements.
Bottom of the table at Christmas, and seven points adrift of safety with just six games remaining, the Black Cats secured their top-flight status with a match to spare as they claimed a 2-0 win over West Brom at the Stadium of Light.
First-half goals from Jack Colback and Fabio Borini lifted Sunderland to 14th position and opened up a five-point gap to Norwich City ahead of Sunday's final game with Swansea.
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The victory means Poyet's side have taken 13 points from their last five matches, and confirmation of their survival led to the Uruguayan punching his fists in the centre-circle at the final whistle.
“I'm absolutely delighted, and proud of what we have achieved,” said Poyet. “I'm so pleased for the players, the fans and the club. I was brought into the club to do one job, and one job only. And that was to stay in the Premier League.
“We've done it in a certain style, and it's going to be remembered forever. There will be people still talking about this in many, many years time. We have shown that it is possible to survive when no one thinks you can.
“In the future, managers will point to this and say, 'You can do it, even if you are seven points adrift with six games to go'. I don't know if something like this will ever happen again, but I believe in miracles now.”
Having looked dead and buried when they followed a crushing 5-1 defeat at Spurs with a 1-0 reverse at home to Everton, Sunderland have rallied spectacularly, taking seven points from away games at the Etihad Stadium, Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford.
Home wins over Cardiff and West Brom proved equally crucial, enabling the Black Cats to guarantee their survival without the need for a nervous finale on Sunday.
With the same 11 players having started the last five matches, last night's starting line-up deserve considerable credit for hauling Sunderland to safety.
And having inherited a side that had picked up just one point from their first eight matches, Poyet has also been rightly praised for his role in the survival campaign.
“It is the biggest achievement of my life for sure,” he said. “This is one of the happiest days of my life as well. I always think about other people – the fans, the city, and how important it is for them to have a team in the Premier League.
“How important it is for the staff and the chairman, to be able to plan for the future knowing we are in the Premier League. The difference between staying up and going down is that people do not lose their jobs. When things do not go well, and you see how many people are affected by that, it hits you.”
Poyet can now begin to plan for the future, and with eight senior players out of contract and another five due to complete loan spells, some major decisions will be required in the next few weeks.
This has been a dramatic campaign from the first week to the last, but Poyet does not want a repeat next season.
“For me, it is fundamental that we are not sitting here in the same situation next season,” he said. “Can I survive another year like the last seven months? No. I am strong, but I don't want to die.
“I don't want to have a heart attack or lose any more hair. I want to have a season where I can relax and see my team playing football week in, week out.
“Are we going to win the league? No. But we have to make sure we do not have another season like the last two or three. When you play with fire, eventually you get burned, and we do not want that.”
Colback, whose first-half strike brought his third goal of the season, is still due to leave the Stadium of Light as a free agent this summer.
Newcastle United are one of a number of Premier League clubs to have inquired about the midfielder's services, but his commitment never wavered as he played a pivotal role in Sunderland's survival push.
“After the Tottenham and Everton games, everyone wrote us off, but I think that helped us,” said Colback. “To get the win tonight feels good. I feel relief.
“It's been a long, tough season, but Gus Poyet has been brilliant since he came in. He is positive and gives us belief. We had spells where we struggled, but we've managed to pull it out of the bag somehow.”