TONY PULIS believes that Stoke City's current situation underlines how tight all the Leagues have been this season . . . as they aim to take another step towards ensuring Barclays Premier League safety at Sunderland on Monday evening.
Under normal circumstances, City would consider that they are safe now after reaching the all-important 40-point mark with two successive victories, but results this weekend have raised further doubts about whether that is sufficient.
Wins for Wigan Athletic and Aston Villa mean that the battle to avoid the third relegation spot is wide open going into the final few games and therefore Pulis' side will be hoping to continue their recent resurgence at the Stadium of Light.
"If you look at all the Leagues, not just the Premier League, they have all been incredibly tight this season," he said ahead of the Sunderland game. "It's been one of those seasons when promotion and relegation issues have gone right to the end.
"What we have seen in the Premier League over the past couple of weeks is teams who were right in the thick of the relegation battle picking up good results. There will be more twists and turns in the last couple of weeks, so we can't afford to relax.
"We're not mathematically safe, but you always think that when you get to 40 points, that might be enough to see you over the line. We've got good goal difference as well, so we're pleased to be in this position going into the final few matches.
"Having said that, winning breeds confidence, and if we pick up good results in our last three matches, we could still end up having our best Premier League season yet, both in terms of the number of points and a top half finish.
"That's the Premier League, the thin line between success and failure, and how quickly the picture can change if you put a run together."
He added: "The important thing is that we must never get above ourselves. Apart from the top seven or eight clubs, the rest of us are fighting for our lives and unless something dramatic happens those teams are very close together."
Pulis knows that his players can expect a backlash from Sunderland when they step out at the Stadium of Light following their 6-1 defeat at Aston Villa.
"I don't think there will be anything but a backlash," commented City's manager. "I went to watch the game at Villa Park and I thought Villa were excellent.
"Paolo Di Canio will be disappointed with the way they performed and I am sure he will have them fired up for this one after that defeat.
"It's always a tough place to go because of their passionate support, but it will be even more so because of the situation on this occasion."