Despite our convincing 4-0 victory at Selhurst Park last weekend, making sure that we don't lose when we face Southampton tomorrow seems absolutely huge at this stage of the season.
Rewind to May 2015 and our position was even more critical than it is now. A 1-1 draw at Stoke had seen the Black Cats fall into the bottom three with just five league games left. Alarmingly, Sunderland had won just one of their prior 10 league fixtures, which included two morale-sapping defeats at home to Aston Villa and Crystal Palace.
Newcastle had been in free-fall for months, but realistically only needed one victory to secure their Premier League survival and they were playing Leicester, who were just a single point above us. We could really have done with the best coach in the league (yes, John Carver did call himself that) inspiring his players to at least a point. Alas, the hapless toon succumbed to a 3-0 defeat and as we kicked off at the Stadium of Light we were four points behind the Foxes.
Sunderland needed to dig deep against a decent Southampton side and Danny Graham encapsulated the overall desire of the team that day. In the first few minutes he put in a thumping tackle on Maya Yoshida and won a throw in before turning to the crowd and appealing for them to increase the noise levels - the fans duly responded, and we established a foothold in the game. Despite this, there were few chances in the opening exchanges, apart from Graham firing over the bar from the edge of the penalty area.
But on 21 minutes, we were awarded a penalty as Danny Graham bravely challenged for the ball in the 18 yard box, receiving a kick in the head for his troubles. Jordi Gomez confidently dispatched the resulting spot kick and gave us a vital lead.
We then decided to remind everyone of the Sunderland way and conceded a comical equalizer just a minute later. A hopeful long ball in the penalty area was spilled by the giant Pantilimon on contact with Sebastian Coates, and Sadio Mane tucked away the loose ball into the back of an empty net.
The home side continued on the front foot for the reminder of the half and Connor Wickham got his bearings all wrong as the ball was pulled back to him inside the Saints penalty area - he could only side foot it over the bar.
The Black Cats were denied a second goal later in the half as Wickham and Jermain Defoe had shots blocked within seconds of each other and the two sides went in level at the break.
Fortunately, the lads weren’t to be denied anymore and just 10 minutes into the second period we were awarded our second penalty of the afternoon. Lee Cattermole played a lovely ball in behind the Southampton defence which Danny Graham latched onto the end of, before cutting the ball back for Defoe who was felled by James Ward-Prowse. The Saints midfielder was given his marching orders by Mike Jones and Jordi Gomez coolly converted his second penalty of the afternoon.
Again, in true Sunderland style we couldn’t convincingly see the game with a man advantage.
After weathering much Southampton pressure Santiago Vergini decided to have one of his weekly meltdowns and attempted to backheel the ball off a visiting player to win a goal kick but he lost possession and Steve Davis fired in a shot from Nathaniel Clyne’s cutback, which Costel Pantilimon crucially saved. As the ball was cleared there was an explosion of relief around the stadium, manager Dick Advocaat celebrated as though a goal had been scored, and big Costel punched the air as almost 40,000 people struggled to regulate their heart-rates.
Just seconds later it was all over, and Sunderland kept themselves in touch with the teams around them. The final whistle was met with another outpouring of relief and that spirit proved vital in another great escape on Wearside.