A BATTLING performance at Aston Villa is proof Sunderland are no longer pushovers on their travels according to Craig Gordon.
The Black Cats earned a creditable 1-1 draw at Villa Park on Wednesday, Fraizer Campbell putting them ahead before John Carew levelled, to give Sunderland a return of 12 points from nine games and edge further clear of relegation danger.
Yet, over the course of the season, their away record has been a huge let-down with just one win on the road – at Bolton on the opening day – and a meagre seven points picked up from a possible 51.
But Gordon says that Sunderland’s display against top-four hopefuls Villa was a big improvement, and that they will need to produce a similar performance against Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday.
“It was important to show what we could do away from home” said the Scotland international goalkeeper. “The last four games at home were a step in the right direction and some much-needed points for us, but we had to show we could take that on the road and put in a performance like the Villa one.
“We’ve not picked up a lot of points away from home this season, so Wednesday’s game was another step in the right direction and a good performance
as well. We had to weather the storm – they came flying out of the blocks and put us under a lot of pressure – but we changed our system to deal with that.
“Once we managed to get through that we scored with our first attack really and that set us up and gave us something to hold on to.
“We gave as good as we got. For the away team to have as many good chances as that, we know we’ve given them a game and stood up to be counted.
“We were much better than some of our recent away games. We passed the ball a lot better, kept it in some tight areas, and took some of the pressure off the defence by doing that.
“That set us up with a few attacks where we managed to get in behind them and create a few chances for our forwards. We know if we do that, we’ll take our fair share.”
Wednesday’s draw moved Sunderland onto 35 points, 11 points clear of the relegation zone with seven games still remaining.
In the final analysis, that total could prove to be enough to ensure survival – but Gordon insists Sunderland can not afford to allow any complacency to creep in.
A top-half finish is still within reach for the Wearsiders and Gordon says every point collected is a step away from the bottom three and towards the top ten.
“I wouldn’t like to say we were safe just yet,” he said. “Anything can still happen, but the way we’re playing and the performances we’re putting in are definitely pointing us in the right direction.
“We’re starting to look at the teams above us rather than the teams below us, which is nice.
“We’ve had quite a consistent selection in the last few games and that’s definitely made a difference. We’ve been able to grind things out a bit defensively to open up a cushion on the teams below us.
“But I don’t think we’re quite safe yet – we have to make sure we continue doing what we’re doing and look to haul in a few of the teams above us.”
Gordon missed ten weeks of the season with a broken arm, suffered in a collision with striker Jermain Defoe during the defeat at Spurs at the beginning of November.
The 27-year-old returned at the end of January and has recently hit top form, with man of the match performances in the last three games against Manchester City, Birmingham and now Villa.
Gordon said: “It’s been a good run of form for me. Hopefully it’ll start to get a bit quieter from here on in, but I’ve been called upon to keep the guys in it in the last few games, and thankfully I’ve been able to do that.
“I’ve been able to help out the team, which is nice for me, and hopefully we can all keep it going and have a good end to the season.
“It takes quite a bit for a goalkeeper to get over a broken arm, so I think – all in all – I’ve had quite a good season.
“It doesn’t feel like it’s getting towards the end of the season for me because there was a big gap in the middle when I was out, so I still feel really fresh even though it’s now getting towards the summer.”
l SUNDERLAND striker Ryan Noble has joined Coca-Cola Championship Watford on an emergency loan deal for the rest of the season.
The 18-year-old, who has scored 36 goals for the Black Cats’ Under-18s and reserve sides during the current campaign, has been drafted in to help in the Hornets’ fight against relegation.
Watford are currently in 21st place in the Championship table, just one place and three points above the drop zone.
Noble could make his debut against Middlesbrough at Vicarage Road on Saturday.