SIDELINED Claudio Reyna last night admitted he fears returning to action with Sunderland in the Nationwide League.

But the United States World Cup star remains confident that the rest of the Black Cats squad can come out of the relegation dog-fight unscathed with their Premiership place still intact.

West Ham's 2-1 victory over Blackburn on Wednesday meant Sunderland dropped to second bottom, two points adrift of fourth-bottom Bolton and seven below 16th placed Birmingham.

Many of the Stadium of Light's supporters, who turned on chairman Bob Murray during Tuesday's defeat to Southampton, are already convinced they are destined for Division One.

Reyna, who is unlikely to play again this season despite his cruciate ligament injury responding well after surgery, revealed he has considered the prospect of life outside the English top-flight.

He said: "You do think about that. We are in there, along with a few other teams, in a relegation battle.

"But we are all still believing at the club, myself and the injured players included, that we can still stay up.

"There's no point in giving up and if there are players who do then there's no point in them being out there. Not that anyone has.

"The season is far from over and there are a few teams that can be dragged into a relegation battle rather quickly. We have to keep going and believing that we can get out of it."

Reyna signed from Rangers in December 2001 and when he joined he was convinced Sunderland were heading up the Premiership table rather than down.

But the former Wolfsburg and Bayer Leverkusen man is convinced his side can get out of their current plight and he pointed out that all clubs can go through poor spells.

"It's been disappointing since I came," said the £4m capture. "Clubs go through bad spells and this League can do that to you, it can make you lose confidence quickly.

"If things don't go your way it snowballs and that type of thing happens in every league all over the world. It happens to great teams and if you look in Spain, Barcelona are just three points above the relegation zone and they have world-class players. "

Sunderland's current state has been a hard pill to swallow for Reyna, who has been unable to help the cause after being ruled out since sustaining the serious knee injury at Bolton in October.

The United States skipper, who was linked with a number of clubs after his impressive displays in last summer's World Cup, has been recovering in his homeland but he is currently on Wearside undergoing progress tests.

And he insists it has been difficult for him to have to hear of Sunderland's struggle from his armchair.

"It's been pretty frustrating because you know you can't help out," he said. "Going through a long-term injury means you just have to sit and watch.

"One of the nice things about being away is that you don't go through the highs and lows of being in the team.

"I've been able to just sit and switch off, making sure I just worry about my rehab.

"But obviously I've been checking regularly over the progress of the team.

He added: "The spirit seems to be still good in the squad. Everyone's obviously feeling the pressure and there's more tension but the spirits are fine.

"Everyone is trying not to worry and trying just to concentrate on the game on Saturday and the games after that."

Reyna will be a spectator at the Stadium of Light tomorrow as Sunderland aim to earn only their third Premiership win under Howard Wilkinson.

And Reyna, who returns to the US on Monday, believes Wilkinson's men must take maximum points from most of their remaining home games this season if they are to stand a chance of staying up.

"The home games are huge," he said. "The players and everyone have been working hard to put things right in training and when things don't go well in a match the fans get frustrated."

Reyna hopes to return to England and full training around April and, though unlikely, he has not ruled out a return by the end of the current campaign to help boost the club's survival chances.

He said: "I hope to come back then and when I do I will be released to train with the team.

"If anything I'm ahead of schedule. But it's important the new ligament - the graft - heals. Four months is when I'm released to train, so I'm looking to that.

"I haven't given up hope of playing this season, but it looks more like next season. If it isn't this year it will be pre-season and that's how I have to look at it."

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