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 By PA Sport

Sunderland training so hard that squad will be 'dreaming about it' - Allardyce

Sam Allardyce has pledged to work relegation battlers Sunderland so hard his players will suffer nightmares about training ground defending drills.

Black Cats boss Allardyce insists the route to Premier League safety now lies in relentless hard work and little else, after missing a fine chance for victory in Saturday's 1-1 draw at Southampton.

Jermain Defoe's late strike put Sunderland in control only for Virgil van Dijk to equalise in injury time, leaving Allardyce deflated but quickly plotting hard graft ahead.

Sunderland now face a fallow weekend before taking on relegation and local rivals Newcastle on Sunday, March 20, with Allardyce insisting the extra preparation time will not be wasted.

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"Well the training programme will be different for the players, and there will be more emphasis on us being technically better in possession," said Allardyce.

"It's about improving our final third play and delivery, and opening the opposition up.

"I thought we got to the final third on a huge amount of occasions today, but could have provided the final ball better.

"And of course the most important thing for me is they'll be sick and tired of defending.

"Obviously there will be defending practices, and they'll be so sick of it they'll be sleeping and dreaming about it.

"I would have liked to have been going into the Newcastle game having got these three points.

"But if we'd have got the three points today even if they win against Leicester next week they couldn't have caught us.

"Whoever wins the derby is probably going to go ahead of each other by the looks of it.

"And we've got to make sure we can try to be the winners again if we can."

Allardyce admitted the Sunderland squad had struggled for focus after the verdicts in former winger Adam Johnson's court case.

The former West Ham boss called on his players to move on however, even though club administrators will probably face further questions in the continued fallout of the Johnson situation.

When asked if Sunderland had had to battle for full concentration this week, Allardyce said: ``I think the answer to that is yes but we have to be professional.

Jermain Defoe's goal was not enough to get Sunderland over the line against the Saints on Saturday.

"That's outside of our control, we really have to put that behind us as a football club, certainly me in charge of the football side of it.

"I think the players have done that already and we focus on what we've got to try and do, and make everybody happy come the last game of the season in May."

Evergreen hitman Defoe backed Sunderland to beat the drop despite blowing two points at St Mary's.

"Personally I think we'll be fine," said Defoe. "I believe from now until the end of the season we will win a few games because of the way we're playing and the players we've got.

"It's a long break until the next game but I'm sure the manager will prepare the team so we're ready for that cup final."

Defoe was dropped to the bench for Saturday's Southampton trip after failing to score in three matches, but proved his clinical finishing again in a vital second half cameo.

The 33-year-old insisted he is just as comfortable joining the fray from the bench as leading the line from the off.

"I don't think I've got anything to prove," said Defoe. "I've been lucky enough to score goals throughout my career and if you come off the bench you try to score.

"I've always put myself in positions to do that. I've always believed if I get the chance I'll score."

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