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Sunderland - it was win or bust - 17/03/2003

   Austin Okocha
   Leeds United
   West Ham United
   Birmingham City

Mick McCarthy’s a different kettle of fish to Howard Wilkinson and I expect him to do well at Sunderland. When a new manager comes in, it’s the norm for the team to pick up in form, and to be honest, I expected a very tough game at the Stadium if Light. Howard had lost the plot, and coming out with some very dubious statements just served to undermine any credibility that he had. Player’s need to be motivated, to be inspired, and although his football intelligence is without doubt, his lack of charisma was his ultimate downfall.

We played well at the Stadium of Light and restricted them to few chances. The three points were well deserved and are crucial for our survival hopes.

Jay Jay Okocha grabbed the headlines with his tricks and ‘fluke’ of a goal, but he’s the provider of a bit of quality – and quality can win you matches. He’s not the most consistent of players, and I feel he does better when the team is on top of the game, but if he wins matches, then he’s worth his place. It was a good point for West Ham away at Everton, and they’ve certainly turned a corner. Looking at the table, most will say it’s between us and the Hammers. But it's not as simple as that - Birmingham are by no means out of it, but their run in isn’t the toughest, especially since they’ve some easier games at St. Andrew’s. Leeds could also be in trouble, they desperately need a win to steady the nerves and if both West Ham and ourselves continue to pick up points then they’re in deep trouble. Unlike the other teams fighting it out at the bottom, Leeds’ fans can have a negative affect on their chances. I can see them getting on the back of the Chairman and this may also have a negative effect on the players.

Looking forward, we’ve Tottenham on next Monday night, and although I fancy our chances, the pressure will be on. If West Ham can get a result at home to Sunderland – and they should, then we’ll be back in the drop zone as we run out at the Reebok. The irony is that we've doing well, not many teams get a result at Anfield and excepting that Liverpool game, we've been in great form over the last four matches. Tottenham aren’t the best of traveller’s, having been beaten by both Sunderland and West Ham, so it’d be disappointing not to get a result. All matches are crucial, but at this stage of the season, the next couple of games can decide our fate.

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