Larsson: Victory at QPR is vital
Sebastian Larsson believes Sunderland's visit to Queens Park Rangers on Saturday is likely to define the club's season.
The Black Cats have endured a frustrating campaign and currently sit in 14th position in the Premier League, just six points above the relegation places.
With Larsson, 27, hopeful of a victory, the Sweden international conceded that defeat at Loftus Road would force the club to look nervously over their shoulder.
"You want to look up the table and aim to climb it," he told the Daily Mail. "The possibility is there to do just that, especially if we beat QPR. If we win and head home, feeling satisfied with the performance, it will be great for our confidence but in the back of our minds, we will still know that a few bad results and you are right back in it again so we have to keep focused.
"If we lose, we will have no option but to look below us in the table because defeat could see the bottom teams closing the gap on us. If we lose and those teams under us win, then we are right in the relegation mix. You cannot deny it. You have to realise that and accept the situation you are in.
"It is a defining weekend, but you could have said that about the last few weekends and the ones coming up as well. That is the way it has gone. We have not had the best of runs lately, especially points-wise. But it is a strange season. We only drew at home to Fulham but actually climbed the table. It is a funny league."
Larsson believes a win at Loftus Road could even set the Black Cats on their way to a respectable top-ten finish.
"If we can have a decent finish to the season, find that little bit of consistency, it is achievable," he said. "With a strong finish, we can still make this into a half-decent season and finishing tenth would be something to build on."
Meanwhile, defender Carlos Cuellar believes that despite facing a side bottom of the Premier League, Sunderland cannot underestimate their opponents.
With QPR investing heavily in the January transfer window, Cuellar, 31, believes their position does not befit the talent they have available.
"You cannot believe QPR are bottom of the table with the players they have in their team and the way they are going right now," he told the Sunderland Echo. "If we go there thinking they are not very good because they are bottom of the table, we are going to have a big surprise - they have top quality players and they have started to do very well. They are scoring goals now and they have signed new players and they could quite easily have a strong end to the season. I have watched them and they are quick, they pass it well and they have a chance to stay up.
"Their recent results have been pretty good and that's something we have to be very much aware of when we go there this weekend. It is tough when you are in a relegation battle because sometimes the players think they are no good when that is simply not true. If results don't go for you, then those good players are playing in pressure situations every time. It can very easily affect you. But the good thing about Sunderland is that I don't think we have that problem."
With Cuellar confirming he is ready to return to first-team action, the club have also been boosted by the news that full-back Danny Rose is in contention for the weekend's clash.
Rose, 22, has been in fantastic form since joining the Black Cats on loan from Tottenham in the summer. However, he has seen his start to 2013 disrupted by a hamstring injury that resurfaced during the home defeat to Arsenal last month.
"Danny Rose has done some training and is making good progress, so he should come into contention," manager Martin O'Neill said. "He did a lot of his recuperation work with Tottenham, but he is now back with us and has trained this week. He played in a behind-closed-doors game, where a lot of the players, I felt, needed some football played against some of our younger lads, and he didn't feel too bad about it. There's no reason why he shouldn't be involved this weekend.
"[QPR's] a big game for us. We are entering the final third of the season with plenty of games to go, a lot of points to play for and we are one of a bunch of teams pushing for tenth place but conscious of the fact we're not safe from the bottom of the table either.
"QPR have strengthened in the January transfer window, they've got an able manager and their recent form has been good. They're also at home and they'll fancy their chances and this is not a game we would ever take lightly. I don't know whether or not we'll be favourites, I certainly think their work in the recent window has greatly helped their hopes of survival."