Ahead of this weekend's visit to the Stadium of Light, PNE boss Alex Neil has praised the determination and desire of his squad going into the final nine games of the season.
With Saturday's hosts in need of the points as they look to avoid relegation from the Championship, the gaffer has reiterated how important the points are for his own side.
Speaking to iFollow PNE, the manager said: “We’ve got our own ambitions that we want to try and achieve and we’re fighting to try and achieve that as well. Every game between now and the end of the season is going to be really hard fought and I don’t think the Sunderland match will be any different.”
“We’ve got to look at and understand our opponent's motivation coming into a game. If they’re desperate for the points, for whatever reason, we’ve got to understand that this isn’t a game where they’ve got nothing to play for.
"I think these type of teams are really dangerous to play against, they need the points, we also need the points, so you’re just hoping in terms of playing under pressure that we can handle that and hopefully go out and perform.
“We’ve got a determination and a willingness in this squad, which if I’m honest is unparalleled to what I’ve been used to before.
"I said it to the lads after the Fulham game and in the press conference that we can use the defeat against them as fuel for the remainder of the season.
"That frustration and disappointment of a defeat when you’ve been the better side, can overcome you if you dwell on it too long, or you can use it to try and kick yourself on and make sure that that doesn’t become the case again, because it’s not a nice feeling when you lose.”
“What we’ve got to understand is how well we played against Fulham, who are a really good side. The margins in which we lost the game were so small. We switched off for a second and they beat us off the back of that.
"So I think there’s plenty of positives to take from that game and we can use them positives to go into the next game and perform as well as we have been doing recently because we’ve been excellent.”
“If you look at footballers, there’s nothing better than having somebody who’s trying to find their way in the game to try and achieve something. They look at other players who have been there and done it before and think ‘I want to be the next guy that does that.’ I think that in itself is great motivation for the players and that’s something that I try and utilise and harness to their advantage and to the teams advantage.”
“I’ve got two jobs here; one is to make the players better and two is to win games. I think at the moment we’re managing to do both. I’d like to win more games, but I think it goes hand in hand. If I can try and improve the players even more then I think it can help them try and win more games for us.”
North End were held to a 2-2 draw against the Black Cats earlier in the season in a tough test at Deepdale, and the gaffer is expecting an equally challenging encounter against a side desperate for points as they look to climb out of the bottom three.
“It was tough against Sunderland earlier on in the season. I think that there was a lot of emotion that day - obviously Simon (Grayson) and Aiden (McGeady) were coming back for the first time since they left, and I think Sunderland were naturally always going to raise their game.”
“We went ahead in the game back in September and probably should have kept the lead. We didn’t and then the game ended in a draw. Despite their position in the league at the moment, I am expecting an equally tough game on Saturday.
"I think there’s a lot pressure coming into Saturday’s game at Sunderland. The fans will be nervous and agitated because they think their team should be doing better and we’ve got to take advantage of that.
We’ve got to make sure we go and start the game really well, put them on the back foot, agitate the fans because that’s part and parcel of it and then hopefully try and go on, use that to our advantage and try and win the game.”
On the opposition, the PNE boss continued: “There’s always teams in the league who over-achieve, and you think they’ve done great. And then there’s always teams that you look at and think they should be doing better with what they’ve got.
"It’s really difficult as a spectator, as a fan, as a manager or as a coach to put your finger on what the problem is. If you look at the collection of players Sunderland have currently got, the majority of them have played in the Premier League, so they have got good players, there’s no question about that. Why they find themselves where they are in the Championship table, I’m not quite sure.”
“With the players at their disposal you would think they should be doing better. However, if the players aren’t applying themselves properly and go about their work in the way they should be doing then it doesn’t matter how much talent you’ve got.
"Work ethic, grit and determination is a massive part of football. I’m not saying the players there don’t have that, but I’m looking at the players they have and wonder why they aren’t performing better.”
“Throughout my career, I’ve been involved at both ends of the spectrum. When you’re at the top of the table and everything goes your way, you get the rub of the green, you win games when you really shouldn’t given the performance in the match.
"Then when you’re at the bottom of the table, it seems to be one catastrophe after another and everything seems to conspire against you.”
“It’s a difficult one for Sunderland at the moment. However, if you look at recent results from sides who are near the bottom of the table, they’re picking up results now. I think it can be really dangerous playing sides near the bottom at this stage of this season because they’re fighting for their lives, they know what’s at stake and they’re running out of time.”
Watch the full interview with the gaffer on iFollow PNE by clicking on the video above.