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Bramble believes there's still cause for Cats concern
THERE may still be six points separating Sunderland from the relegation zone, but when they take on the Premier League's bottom club this afternoon Titus Bramble thinks they cannot afford to lose.
Queens Park Rangers, still four points from safety and ten behind the Black Cats, are in desperate need of victories and manager Harry Redknapp feels his team must win at least half of their remaining ten games to stand a chance of survival.
A victory at Southampton, still involved in the fight to avoid the drop themselves, last weekend has given QPR a boost before the visit of Sunderland and Martin O'Neill's men know it will be a huge test.
O'Neill has been trying to address a slide back down the table after a run of five matches without a win, including three defeats, since returning from Wigan with all three points on January 19.
The alarm bells have not started to ring just yet, but another reversal at Loftus Road and fears will have grown ahead of a run of fixtures with Norwich, Manchester United and Chelsea before the Tyne-Wear derby at St James' Park on April 13.
"If QPR beat us on Saturday it will bring us right back in the mix," said Bramble. "We have to try to focus on winning. If we get a win then we will be in mid-table and looking up. That's our aim.
"We will be as up for it as QPR are because we are not safe yet. Until we are mathematically safe we have to make sure we are on it. Any club Harry Redknapp goes in to, he instills a bit of belief. That's what he does.
"We are only worried about ourselves. If we are on our game then we can get three points. We did enough to beat Fulham last weekend but we have been saying that for the last few weeks now and got one draw and three defeats from our last four games.
"We didn't deserve to lose any of those. But to have come from two goals down against Fulham and not get beaten means we can take positives from that.
"Saturday is a huge game, we are three or four points off the top half of the table but we are six points off the relegation zone."
Bramble has been preferred at the heart of the defence alongside John O'Shea since the turn of the year. This afternoon's outing will be his tenth in a row having been among those who many felt would leave in January.
The 31-year-old is out of contract in the summer and would like to stay. Having enjoyed an extended run of games, he feels his confidence is growing with the more minutes he racks up.
"If you ask any player, you need a run of four, five or six games to start showing your best form and match sharpness," he said. "If you only play a couple here and there then you are not going to show any consistency.
"Any player wants to get a run of games in the team, whatever position they play in. Maybe it's not true for goalkeepers, but for anyone else it is crucial."
When Bramble lines up at the heart of the defence alongside O'Shea today it will be the eighth league game in a row when O'Neill has opted for that pairing.
Sunderlands defence has had to deal with a number of injuries this season and enforced changes, so a little continuity, Bramble feels, can help. The fact he is alongside the experienced former Manchester United defender makes it easier to build up a strong partnership.
Bramble said: "It helps massively that I have been playing alongside John O'Shea regularly. We do a lot of work in training, with different partnerships at the back.
"If you put anybody with anybody then they will know each other and what to expect. But O'Shea has been in the game for donkey's years. He has so much experience.
"Playing with someone like that is a massive help. He has been there, done that and played with the best. I dont mind who I play alongside really. Everybody here is comfortable with everyone else."