Sam Allardyce tells his Sunderland players their battle is not won
Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce has warned his players they are in a marathon and not a sprint as they attempt to drag themselves clear of Barclays Premier League relegation trouble.
The Black Cats eased themselves out of the drop zone last weekend after back-to-back victories over Crystal Palace and Stoke to hand their new manager three wins in his six games at the helm to date.
However, he has been at pains ever since to remind people that the job is far from done, and that fact is brought into sharp focus by a December fixture list which starts with a tough trip to Arsenal on Saturday and also includes fixtures at Chelsea and Manchester City and Liverpool's visit to Wearside.
Allardyce said: "We have gone a long way towards trying to get out of the position we are in, but we have still an awful long way to go.
"At the minute, we have won the sprint, but we are in the marathon, don't forget, so we have still got a long way to go to pick up more and more points as quickly as possible.
"We have slightly helped and relieved the situation, but we are still in deep, deep relegation trouble that we have to make sure we get out of as quickly as we possibly can."
Sunderland have drawn 0-0 on three of their last trips to meet the Gunners, and memorably secured their top-flight status last season with the most recent of them.
They have made something of a habit of prospering against the big guns during tense conclusions at the end of the last three campaigns to fend off relegation, but Allardyce admits they cannot rely on similar heroics every year.
He said: "It's been done in the past here, I know, but that is the most difficult way to do it. Pick your points up against the teams in and around you in that bottom eight - that relieves the pressure when you play the Arsenals."
Sunderland are currently scouring the market in preparation for the January transfer window with loans with an option to buy likely to be their approach, and Allardyce knows what happens on the pitch over the next few weeks could impact upon that.
He said: "Some players won't want to up sticks wherever they are and come and join a relegation battle, so you have got to do a lot of research and a lot of finding out what exactly the criteria are for them to come and make you better than you already are.
"It's always been a difficult window to work in, but even more difficult when you are in the relegation zone."