GARY Bennett says Sunderland are facing “eight cup finals” to secure their Premier League status – but feels they will need just seven more points to survive.
The Black Cats are just one place and one point above the relegation zone heading into what could be a defining few weeks.
Next weekend, there is the small matter of the derby with Newcastle United – and Roker legend Bennett feels a fifth win in a row against the Magpies will set Sunderland well on the way to safety.
Dick Advocaat’s first game in charge last week ended in a 1-0 defeat at West Ham, but results elsewhere aided Sunderland’s cause.
Bennett – who played for the club between 1984 and 1995 – has urged them to take advantage of that helping hand, and add to their miserable tally of four league wins so far this season.
He said: “Sunderland have got eight cup finals left, and I’m sure that’s the way Dick Advocaat will be treating the games.
“The next six games are especially crucial, because nobody will be expecting us to win the final two games, at Arsenal and Chelsea.
“Sunderland proved in last season’s great escape that any game can be winnable at this time of the season, but they won’t want to go into those final two matches adrift of safety.
“I think about seven more points are needed, and we’ve got to get them.
“Sunderland will have to work extremely hard to do that, and their tally of wins so far this season shows how difficult it is.
“The wins aren’t just going to be handed to them.”
Former Newcastle boss Alan Pardew will bring his Crystal Palace side to Wearside the weekend after the derby.
However, Bennett does not feel Sunderland’s fortunes will necessarily ride entirely on what happens over the next two home games.
The former defender, who is part of the BBC Radio Newcastle commentary team for Sunderland games, added: “After Newcastle, Crystal Palace are next up at home, so on paper it’s two very important games.
“There are only eight games left, but it will be far from over even if we lose to Newcastle and Crystal Palace.
“It won’t necessarily mean we’ll be relegated, although it will make it even tougher.”