Sbragia eager to secure safety on South Coast
Sunderland manager Ricky Sbragia is urging his players to finally take the chance to confirm their Premier League status.
The Black Cats remain in 16th place in the table after Saturday's fixtures, but are only a point clear of Hull in 17th and one more better off than derby rivals Newcastle inside the drop zone.
As a result, they need a win at Portsmouth tonight to guarantee their top-flight survival, with a draw still leaving open the possibility that Newcastle could move above them on goal difference if they beat Aston Villa on the final day and the Wearsiders are beaten by Chelsea in their last game.
It has proved a difficult conclusion to the season for the Black Cats, who have collected only six of the last 33 points they have contested and won only once in 11 games.
That has been a source of intense frustration for a manager whose players thought they had eased themselves clear of trouble with successive home victories over Fulham and Stoke in January and February respectively, and then again with a 1-0 win against Hull on April 18.
Instead, the point they claimed from a 0-0 draw at Bolton last weekend ended a run of six defeats in seven games, but left them with work still to do.
Sbragia said: "We know what we have got to do. We have had nine or 10 weeks to do it and we haven't quite done it.
"But the Bolton game, we definitely, without a doubt, got a good performance and we needed that, to be truthful with you.
"It was a good, valuable point as well and if we had our shooting boots on, we might possibly have got a win.
"We knew it was going to be very difficult, but we surprised a few with how we dealt with the situation."
Sunderland turned in their best performance for some time at the Reebok Stadium, but were unable to make the most of the chances they created and were ultimately indebted to a fine late save by goalkeeper Marton Fulop which secured a point.
They will have to produce a similar performance at Pompey if they are to keep Paul Hart's side, and in particular, England striker Peter Crouch, at bay.
Sbragia said: "He is a good player, a very good player. I can remember at Liverpool when I was at Bolton, he scored two terrific goals against us and he was a handful.
"If you look at the Portsmouth team, he [Hart] has gone for the physical side as well.
"He has brought in [Younes] Kaboul and [Hermann] Hreidarsson has come in a left-back, so they are a very tall team.
"They have got some good players and play a system, and it seems to work for them. They are difficult to beat as well."
Tonight's game was moved for television coverage, and that could have proved something of a disadvantage for the visitors had results gone against them.
Sbragia said: "In an ideal world, I would have liked to play at the same time on Saturday.
"I would have preferred that but unfortunately, that doesn't happen in football."