SUNDERLAND'S victory-starved squad, rooted firmly at the foot of the Premiership, have been told to forget about booking their summer holidays - until an unwanted record, already associated with the club, has been avoided.

When the Black Cats suffered the embarrassment of dropping into the Championship three years ago they did so with the lowest points total (19) in Premier League history.

Added to that Sunderland - who had three separate managers that year with Mick McCarthy and Howard Wilkinson following Peter Reid - also had the ignominy of setting new lows for the fewest wins (four), fewest goals (21) and consecutive defeats (15).

Sunderland's current state, with 14 games remaining, is that they have won two league games this season, scoring 17 and have lost their last two matches going into tomorrow's visit of Tottenham.

And, while not accepting relegation as a certainty just yet, trying to ensure McCarthy's class of 2006 manage to improve on the dreadful 19 points that were totalled up in 2003 is high on the players' minds.

Failure to do that and Sunderland's playing staff could be staying behind for extra running when their Premiership counterparts head off to sunnier climes.

"The gaffer has mentioned that if we don't get 19 points we might be in for a bit longer in the summer," said defender Danny Collins. "It's fair enough, and he said he would keep us in after our last game and has told us to put our holidays on hold. He was deadly serious.

"But it's not just for that reason we have to improve our points tally, we need to do it for ourselves because it's a pride thing. Pride plays an important part.

"We have got to get to that point. We need a few wins and a couple of draws. From our point of view we have got to try. It's not looking too good to catch the teams in front of us but we have got to reach this target. It would be good to go from there.

"As soon as we got knocked out of the FA Cup we knew it was going to be shown on FA Cup Classics for years to come. You don't want to be part of a team that got the lowest points total ever as well. We have 14 games to try to make sure we don't do that."

When Tottenham visit tomorrow Martin Jol's side could be forgiven for thinking a win is a foregone conclusion in their quest to land a Champions League spot.

Jol is expected to stick with the diminutive forward line of Robbie Keane and Jermain Defoe, with Egyptian striker Mido still in his homeland last night.

A date with the international strike force is something Collins, likely to be asked to play alongside Danny Collins at the heart of the defence with Steve Caldwell suspended, is relishing.

Collins, a bargain signing from Chester City last season, has predominantly played as a left-back since his arrival, despite making a name for himself as a centre-back in the lower leagues.

And he said: "I'm looking forward to getting a game there.

"Long-term I want to be a centre-back. It's a different job playing left-back. You have to adjust.

"As a left-back you have to get forward more and support a bit more. As a centre-back you have to be tuned in more around the box and I like that.

"In my early days I played at left back in lower league football.

"About three seasons ago I was moved to left centre-back. I find it more comfortable there and I enjoy it more. But if I get called on to play left back I don't mind it."

It's been against the Premiership's better teams when Sunderland have impressed this season, something Collins is hoping is the case again tomorrow.

He has no reason why but admits decent showings mean nothing if points don't arrive with them.

"We seem to have upped our game against the top sides and that's strange," said Collins. "It could be because there is less pressure and less expectancy to win.

"As a footballer you want to play at the top level and I'm getting a chance to do that now and face top players in the world.

"The more games I play, the more experience I am getting. If I can get a run in the team, like I did earlier in the season but at centre-back, that will help me in the future."

Striker Lomana Lualua is ready to return for Portsmouth after missing four games while on African Nations Cup duty and will face Manchester United at Fratton Park just a week after being told of the death of his baby son.

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