May 12, 2016

Some solid late-season play has guaranteed Sunderland another year in the Premier League.

The Black Cats look to conclude top-division play with a season-high third straight victory Sunday at Watford.

As their fans watched with sweaty palms and nervous feet, Sunderland (9-11-17) came through in grand fashion with a 3-0 victory over Everton on Wednesday at the Stadium of Light.

The triumph left Sunderland on 38 points, four clear of relegation heading into the season's final fixture, and leaving rivals Newcastle as well as Norwich City to join Aston Villa in heading to the Championship.

"I've always said 38 points would do it and it has," manager Sam Allardyce told Sunderland's official website. "We've got a lovely trip to Watford to look forward to and we can relax and play a game of football that won't be anywhere near as intense as our last few."

The Black Cats survived a relegation battle for the fourth straight season, and secured a spot in their 10th consecutive installment of Premier League action. This one took on more urgency given the dramatic rise in television rights money the teams will receive over the summer.

"Sunderland have done this for the last few years, the optimism we (saw Wednesday) has got to become a reality," Allardyce said. "We need to start where we're leaving off. There'll be a lot of hard work needed and lots of planning but we'll do our best."

Since March 1, the Black Cats are 3-6-1 and have scored three goals in back-to-back contests. Wednesday marked the fourth time in seven matches they recorded a clean sheet.

"We're finishing the season on a high and now we've got to make sure we start next season on a high!" Allardyce said. "That's what I want to see."

Patrick Van Aanholt opened the scoring against Everton in the 38th minute and Lamine Kone followed by adding his first two goals in 14 top-division matches this season.

"I am really proud of the team, proud of the staff and everyone here," Kone said.

"I got a brace and it was absolutely extraordinary so to get that myself in front of our fans to make our league safety a certainty makes it a fairy-tale."

Sunderland fell 1-0 to Watford (12-8-17) at the Stadium of Light in December, but the Hornets want to avoid ending their solid return season to the Premier League with a third consecutive defeat.

Troy Deeney opened the scoring in the 11th minute Wednesday at Norwich, but the hosts scored the next three en route to handing Watford a 4-2 loss.

"After a good start it was disappointing to then be behind so quickly, and conceding two in something like two minutes really hit us," Deeney, who assisted on Odion Ighalo's score in the 51st minute, told the Hornets' official website.

Watford are 13th in the table, but have a chance to move up and end a 2-1-7 stretch. The Hornets have yielded a disturbing 11 goals while losing three of the last four Premier League matches.

"It's frustrating and it's disappointing, but we've got a few days now to recover and prepare for Sunderland," Deeney said. "So let's make sure we put it right on Sunday."

While the Hornets reached their goal of staying in the top flight after failing to do so in their past two promotions to the Premier League, they will move on without manager Quique Sanchez Flores, who announced Friday he will be leaving the team. Despite gaining safety with relative ease and a surprising run to the FA Cup semifinals - which contributed to the team's poor form in league play of late - the Spaniard felt he and the team's board did not see eye-to-eye on what needed to be done going forward.

''We looked at all the season and after that I confirmed that the club and me, we don't have the same point of view about the season,'' Sanchez Flores said. ''So we don't have the necessary conditions to activate the clause to renew the contract.''

Former Inter Milan coach Walter Mazzarri has been linked as a potential successor.

Including play in the FA Cup, Deeney has recorded four of his 14 goals over all competition in the last four matches.

Ighalo's strike snapped a 12-match goal slump.

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