Ron Vlaar has admitted that Aston Villa's players are performing not only for their own futures in the final four games of the season, but also for the staff whose jobs could be on the line if the club are relegated from the Premier League.
Villa take on Sunderland at home on Monday, desperate for the victory that would lift them five points clear of the relegation zone and haul them level with Paolo Di Canio's side.
Although Vlaar acknowledged there is "some new spirit" in a Sunderland team rejuvenated since Di Canio took over, the Dutchman pointed to the fact that Villa have delivered when it matters in recent weeks, securing victories against fellow strugglers Queens Park Rangers, Reading and Stoke, as a reason to be upbeat about their prospects of pulling clear of trouble.
Whether Villa survive or not is likely to determine whether a number of players remain at the club, including the leading goalscorer, Christian Benteke, and Vlaar, who is determined to retain his place in the Holland squad for the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil. "That's my goal to go there, and every time I'm in the squad now," said the Villa captain. "I just want to stay up with Villa, that's the most important thing for now. If we play Premier League, that's good enough."
Vlaar is acutely aware that some people's livelihoods could be at stake if Villa are relegated to the Championship. "I know we also play for them, that's for sure. And we have to realise that because it's not only about the players, it's about the club and everybody involved in the club," said the 28-year-old, who left a favourable impression with the office staff when he took it on himself to meet all the employees at Villa Park when he arrived from Feyenoord last summer.
The centre-half is honest enough to admit that, in a campaign when Villa have been particularly poor defensively, conceding 63 goals in the Premier League and failing to keep a clean sheet in their past 23 matches in all competitions, his own form has fallen short of the standards he sets.
"It's too many goals but I think it's not right to blame it only on the defenders; it's the whole team," Vlaar said. "Nobody wants to make mistakes. I've looked at myself and I also made mistakes that have cost goals.
"I'm 28 but I think … it wasn't an easy season. For my first season I could do better, I expect more from myself. I want to stay up and then we have a new season and I think it's going to be better. I'm never completely satisfied with the way I play, I always look for games to improve and organise, also in battles, fights, headers, I want to make less mistakes. I just have to be better."
Asked why Villa have found themselves in a similar position to last season, when their Premier League status was also on the line going into the last few games, Vlaar said: "I think we have shown we play football but most of the time it was not for 90 minutes in a game and that cost us a lot of points.
"A lot of things are being said a lot of times with the [young] age and stuff like that. But I think we are improving. If you see the results for the last weeks, we lost against [Manchester] City, Arsenal, Liverpool and [Manchester] United, and we won against almost all the teams around us, only a draw against Fulham and we should have won that game. They're the teams we have to get the points against and that gives confidence."