SUNDERLAND are entrenched in the relegation zone and in poor form, but history is on their side and Saturday’s thrilling comeback may give the Black Cats the belief they need to survive.

They were 3-0 down at Bristol City before fighting back to draw 3-3, all of the visitors’ goals coming inside the final 20 minutes.

Chris Coleman’s side could even draw inspiration from the last time they flirted with the drop from the second tier, that is the hope of Lee Howey, a Sunderland player in 1994-95 when relegation from what was then known as Division One was a real possibility.

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Under Mick Buxton relegation looked likely, but he was sacked in the final stages of the campaign and replaced by Peter Reid, who had only seven games to save Sunderland but managed to achieve a 20th place finish and the following year he led the club to promotion.

Chris Coleman’s men, currently 23rd, still have 15 league games, plenty of time to bridge the gap between themselves and safety, while Saturday’s fightback could prove to the platform on which an improved run of form is built.

“It’s super tough. You’ve got to keep your fingers crossed that this is the turning point,” said Howey.

“If you take Saturday in isolation – the first half was the worst defensive display I think I have ever seen. It was men against boys and it was ridiculous.

“But we got that bit of luck and it’s given us a bit of belief, that’s sometimes all you need, a little bit of momentum.

“In the Premier League they all have a psychologist at the club, and what they’re about is sorting out positive thinking and your confidence. If you’re playing with confidence then you’ve got a better side.

“I’ll be there on Saturday and it is fingers crossed time. I just want us to survive.”

While Howey did not play in the final seven games of 94-95, he vividly remembers the period and knows how big a factor confidence can be.

Reid’s tenure began with a 1-0 win at Roker Park against Sheffield United and Howey, said: “It was one of those games that look far more important today than they felt at the time. Not winning could have meant relegation and a truncated spell in the job for Peter Reid.

“The victory was an enormous confidence boost and we won 1-0 again seven days later at Derby County.”

He added: “We got promotion with virtually the same team, plus a few changes. That’s what belief can do. Maybe a few of the lads matured as well, players like Martin Smith and Craig Russell, they were good young local lads.

“Peter Reid and Bobby Saxton gave us belief.

“We became a side that believed we wouldn’t get beat, and that is a massive feeling.”

Sunderland are at home to Brentford this weekend, a fortnight since they were last at the Stadium of Light and lost 2-0 to Ipswich. Howey added: “As soon as they scored you could just feel every ounce of confidence drain out of the Sunderland players’ bodies. It was inevitable. There was nothing, and it became a matter of how many Ipswich would score.

“The feeling was ‘here we go again’. You could just feel that there was no belief in the players that we were going to win, that’s why I’m hoping Saturday has given them it.

“Get on the front foot against Brentford and let’s see what we can do.

“It’ll be tiny margins. Are there three worst teams than Sunderland? No. But that can change, and it can change very quickly.”

* Do not miss Saturday’s The Northern Echo for an interview with Lee Howey, who has recently released his autobiography, titled Massively Violent and Decidedly Average.