Sunderland's Sbragia still believes
Ricky Sbragia insisted his belief that Sunderland will survive in the English Premier League has not wavered despite a 3-1 defeat at Portsmouth.
Sunderland had the chance to confirm their top-flight status with a victory at Fratton Park but they let a 1-0 lead slip. The Black Cats are two points clear of Newcastle and the relegation zone but must beat Chelsea at home on Sunday to guarantee survival and avoid relying on results elsewhere.
Sbragia admitted his players were down after throwing away the chance of a win last night. "I do believe we will stay up. We could always beat Chelsea. There is always the belief we can do it," the coach said. "They might have their minds on the FA Cup final. I don't know what team they will pick but we know what we have to do.
"The players are down but you just hope they have that ambition to stay in the Premiership. The players should want to do that," he went on. "They were in that mood last night but they need to be stronger against Chelsea."
Hull, who are one point behind Sunderland, host champions Manchester United on Sunday while Newcastle, who trail by two, travel to Aston Villa.
Sunderland chairman Niall Quinn addressed the squad before the game and urged them to be "difficult to beat" but a defensive howler from Anton Ferdinand allowed Portsmouth to go 2-1 up. But the real issue Sunderland have to overcome is that they cannot afford to waste so many chances against Chelsea next week - whether the Blues have one eye on the cup final or not.
Kenwyne Jones' strike at Fratton Park was their first away from home since February 1 and their first anywhere since 18 April. Kieran Richardson wasted a hatful of chances while Steed Malbranque fluffed a good opening as Sunderland failed to profit from Jones' classy touches up front.
"We will need to score more than one to beat Chelsea on Sunday," Sbragia went on. "In the first half against Portsmouth we did reasonably well and created a few chances but it was the same old story, we didn't finish them. That always comes back to haunt you."
Sbragia, who took over the reins from Roy Keane earlier this season, has never been involved in a last-day scenario in his playing or coaching career. "We have got a difficult game. Hull have a difficult game against Manchester United and Newcastle have to go to Villa. None of them are easy games and if you win one of those you deserve to stay up," said Sbragia. "A draw may be good enough but it is going to be a difficult up-and-down Sunday for us. We cannot afford to lose it, that's for sure."
Sbragia does not fear for his job if results do not go Sunderland's way at the weekend. "You could win it and be sacked, you could lose it and be sacked. I could be knighted. Who knows? I just know I will give it my all and I hope the players do the same."
Portsmouth were already safe after results went their way at the weekend. But stand-in manager Paul Hart would not be drawn into speculation over his future at the club.
"We have one game left. I think we have to just get this season out of the way and see what happens," said Hart. "The rush is not there for me. I am contracted to the club for the next two years. I have not been asked (to become permanent manager) and I am certainly not putting the club under any pressure to do that."