SUNDERLAND head coach Dick Advocaat does not care what relegation rivals Newcastle, Leicester and Hull do as the quartet attempt to dig themselves out of trouble.
The current Barclays Premier League table suggests those four clubs will be battling over the remaining weeks of the season to avoid being the team which join Burnley and QPR – who are in even greater danger – in next season’s Sky Bet Championship.
The Black Cats are currently in the bottom three, but just a point behind Hull and Leicester – who visit the Stadium of Light next weekend – and two shy of the Magpies. But former Rangers manager Advocaat, whose side have a game in hand on the others – albeit away at Arsenal ahead of a final day trip to Chelsea – has challenged his players to keep their fate in their own hands as they head for Everton today.
The 67-year-old Dutchman said: “I don’t care at all. I only care about our club. I don’t care about Newcastle or Hull or whatever. We have to do it by ourselves and not look too much to other teams. We have to do it on the pitch and show them what we want.
“That’s the most important thing – but everybody is counting only the first two games. They are important, but we still have two games to play against Arsenal and Chelsea as well. Everybody is counting those already as nothing, and I don’t see why.”
There were anxious eyes cast towards television screens on Wearside, Tyneside and in the East Midlands on Monday night as Hull hosted Arsenal and lost 3-1, but it proved of only passing interest to Advocaat.
He said: “I take an interest, of course, but we have to do it by ourselves. I’d be lying if I said I was not happy with the result on Monday so in that way, it was good for us. But we also still have some very important games at the end, so let’s wait and see. The most important game now is against Everton.”
Advocaat will be without skipper John O’Shea on Merseyside who sits out with a rib problem, while Jack Rodwell has succumbed to a hamstring strain. But Scotland striker Steven Fletcher is back in contention following his ankle injury, and defender Wes Brown makes a timely return to the squad after damaging a knee back in March.
The KC Stadium hosts another crucial clash as Hull meet bottom side Burnley, who will be relegated back to the Championship if they fail to win today.
Hull have their own survival concerns, but boss Steve Bruce is convinced Nikica Jelavic can return to save his side from the drop.
Bruce insists Hull would not have faced such a nervous end to the campaign had the former Rangers striker – their leading scorer with eight goals – not been laid low with a knee injury for long periods.
Jelavic was on the bench for Monday night’s home defeat by Arsenal and Bruce faces the “awkward and horrible” decision of whether to risk him from the start against the Clarets. Bruce said: “It’s a decision I’ve got to take and I hope I pick the right one.
“It’s typical of Jelavic – he’s had two operations on his knee but he was determined to play a part in the run-in so he has made himself available and gives us another option.
“Our problems this season coincided with the loss of Jelavic. He came in and scored eight goals in 15 games and if he hadn’t been injured I don’t think we’d have been in the problems we are in.”
Jelavic could start in place of another ex-Ibrox man, Sone Aluko, who was ineffective in the loss to Arsenal which left the Tigers teetering one point above the drop zone and ended a run of two straight wins. Former Dundee United full-back Andy Robertson and David Meyler are also pushing to start.
Leicester, who face Southampton at the King Power Stadium, are level on 34 points with Hull following a run of five wins in six matches which have lifted the Foxes out of the relegation zone and earned Nigel Pearson the Manager of the Month award for April.
Two places and one point separate the East Midlands side from the bottom three and Pearson is unsure what it will take from the remaining three games to ensure his team stay up. “Things change very quickly,” he said. “We have to make sure that we really do just try and take care of our own results. It helps when things go your way elsewhere but you can’t bank on that.
“Although we beat Newcastle last weekend, they are still one point above us. The margins are exceptionally fine. It could come down to goal difference. Given who we have to play in our final two matches [Sunderland and QPR], I’m not sure one more win and 37 points would be enough. Who knows what the margins will be, but we’ve got to try to give ourselves every possible chance.”
Newcastle will attempt to drag themselves out of trouble when they meet West Brom at St James’ Park today having gone into the weekend sitting just two points clear of the drop zone after a run of eight successive defeats.
Their form, coupled with a growing tide of pessimism surrounding the club after last weekend’s damaging 3-0 reverse at Leicester, has catapulted them into the thick of a survival scrap. However, beleaguered head coach John Carver insists he and his players also have to concentrate on what they can affect.
He said: “We’re in a position where we can affect what happens. It’s in our hands. We’re not in the bottom three as it stands and there are three games left.
“I can’t afford – and neither can the players – to worry about what everybody else is doing. I didn’t even watch Hull’s game against Arsenal the other night because I can’t affect that.”
Second-bottom QPR visit Manchester City tomorrow and they could be down by the time they take the field at the Etihad in the unlikely event all four catchable sides win today, while their fate will be sealed if they lose to Manuel Pellegrini’s side.