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O'Neill focussed on festive points

Martin O'Neill believes Sunderland are in a battle to save their Premier League status - along with most of the rest of the Premier League.

• Blog: Scrooge relents

The Black Cats are anchored in the bottom half of the table following a poor start to the season, winning just three games in 17, but O'Neill insists his side are not alone in the scrap for survival.

"You look at the league table at the moment and teams in the bottom half have no breathing space," he told the Sunderland Echo. "Neither the teams above us nor the teams below us. That's the reality of the Premier League these days.

"There's only about half-a-dozen sides who can start any one season feeling there's going to be absolutely no danger of the drop. I'm talking about your Man Uniteds and Man Citys, Arsenals and Chelseas.

"They and a few others know that they don't realistically have to worry about the possibility of relegation. But for the rest of us, the bulk of the Premier League, and a few of the teams currently in the top half of the table, it's not something we can rely on. It's all about getting points on the board, about getting to that safety mark where you absolutely know you're not going down.

"Until you get to that point, you can't talk about breathing sighs of relief when you get a good result or two. We got a good result against Reading the other night, but we need more and as soon as possible because we're like many other clubs in this division who can take nothing for granted. The matches are exceptionally tough for us."

O'Neill's men travel to fellow strugglers Southampton on Saturday, before facing Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at the Stadium of Light in late December and the former Aston Villa manager is eager to put points on the board as soon as possible in order to avoid being dragged back towards the relegation zone.

"They are severe tests and if we are anywhere there or thereabouts after they've been played, then we'll be happy because it will be easy to get dragged back into the bottom three for teams around the bottom over this period," he said.

"But I think it is very important that we really try to take things from a difficult set of games. We have to see them as opportunities rather than something to be feared, games where we might pick up an unexpected point or two that will be a real help to us.

"By the turn of the year, we'll have played Man City twice, we'll have played Liverpool twice and also come through difficult away trips to Arsenal, Everton and Manchester United. There'll be fixtures coming up where we might have more of a chance to pick up points, but I want us to forget about them for the moment.

"All we can think about is these few games ahead of us over the Christmas and New Year period. We have to look to go out and compete in every single one of them and look to put points on the board."


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