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May 20, 2009

Defiant Sbragia shrugs off Sunderland sack talk

Sunderland manager Ricky Sbragia has brushed off speculation over his future as he attempts to drag the club out of relegation trouble.

The Scot saw his side fail to secure their Barclays Premier League future on Monday evening when they squandered a 1-0 lead at Portsmouth to lose 3-1 and left themselves among the strugglers at the foot of the table.

Sbragia's men host Chelsea at the Stadium of Light on Sunday knowing defeat could leave them intensely vulnerable, with Hull only a point behind them and derby rivals Newcastle just a further point worse off.

He will prepare for the game against a background of persistent rumours that he will be replaced at the helm whatever happens at the weekend should American businessman Ellis Short push ahead with plans to buy out the Drumaville consortium which took control on Wearside three years ago.

However, despite a posse of higher-profile managers having been linked with his job - Louis van Gaal was mentioned in dispatches before being appointed by Bayern Munich last week, while Steve McClaren and Martin Jol are among those who have also been touted as possible replacements - Sbragia is refusing to be deflected from his mission.

He said: "I actually don't read it. I'm not interested in that, to be honest with you. I am only concerned about Sunderland Football Club and what we have got to do. It's up to us, isn't it?''

Chairman Niall Quinn, the man who fronted Drumaville's takeover at the Stadium of Light, reaffirmed his commitment to the club he served with such distinction as a player after the defeat at Fratton Park regardless of what happens on Sunday.

However, there is a growing feeling that Sbragia, who took over from Roy Keane when he sensationally resigned in December, could return to his role as first-team coach after a dreadful run of results which has seen the club plunged back into the thick of the battle for survival.

However, he remains focused only upon the task with which he was charged when Quinn handed him the reins.

Sbragia said: "When I took the job on, we were in a sticky situation, I knew that, and I was told to keep us in the Premier League - and I still believe we will be in the Premier League after Sunday. That's as far as it goes, as far as I'm concerned.''

Victory for Sunderland over Chelsea would guarantee their participation in next season's Premier League, while a draw would be enough if Newcastle and Hull fail to beat Aston Villa and Manchester United respectively.

But defeat would prove fatal if both the Magpies and the Tigers won.

However, amid concerns over the team Sir Alex Ferguson will field at the KC Stadium just days ahead of the Champions League final clash with Barcelona in Rome, Sbragia is confident the 11 men his compatriot names in his starting line-up will be intent on nothing other than victory over Hull.

Sbragia said: "Man United will play a team that can beat Hull, it's as simple as that. I can understand they have got their minds on the Champions League - if I was in that situation, I would.

"But they have got a lot of depth in their squad and some very good young players as well, so whatever team they put out, they will totally believe they can win the game, and that's all we can ask for.

"Man United will always play the same way. They are very difficult to beat, they do score goals and I would have thought (Ferguson) would put a team out to do that. He won't put a team out of youth players, I will tell you that now.''

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