David Vaughan admits the Sunderland dressing room are "hurting" after having their character and attitude questioned after their humbling at Swansea.
The struggling Black Cats have faced accusations that the players don’t care, while the Daily Mirror branded ten of the players “gutless” after their second-half humiliation at the Liberty Stadium.
The players have taken exception to that accusation and Vaughan – hardly a firebrand presence in the dressing room but confident enough to articulate their discontent – says that they want to answer those insults by notching a Wear-Tyne win that would potentially save their entire season.
“Obviously we’ve come in for criticism from different aspects of the media and fans so this is an opportunity for us to answer back and actually show what we can do,” he said.
“I’ve not seen much of the media over the weekend but we know what we’re capable of and what we can do. We’ve got to start doing it. It’s a good opportunity for us to kick-start our season and turn things around if we win the derby.
“People are calling it a ‘must-win’ – I think it is important that we don’t lose. If we get something we can build on that and try and turn the situation around.”
While the Sunderland players would hardly claim their performances have been acceptable, they are believed to have reacted to the particular accusation that they are “gutless”.
Vaughan said: “It does dent your pride a bit. Losing the games we have and our start to the season means people are going to take digs at us. We’re hurting from it but we’ve got to stay positive and we need to get up the table as quickly as possible,” he said.
“We’ve been close in a lot of games. It’s the odd game here and there. The performances have been OK, it feels like we’ve been just a little bit away. But we need to start turning that into results now.”
Sunderland’s defeat on Saturday confirmed the worst start in Premier League history, with the Black Cats only managing a meagre one point out of their first eight games.
Thanks to Fulham’s defeat of Crystal Palace on Monday, Sunderland are now seven points adrift of Cardiff in 17th. It looks like a difficult situation to resolve but Vaughan (pictured), disputes the idea that the team cannot salvage their Premier League status.
“We’ve got to go into the games thinking we can win and to get as many points as we can to try and get ourselves out of this situation,” the midfielder said. “We don’t believe we’re down at all. We think we can still get enough points to keep us in the Premier League, which is obviously the big aim for everyone this season.”
There is a school of thought that the timing of this game is good for Sunderland, who can use the derby to transform their season. All of that depends on them emulating the 3-0 victory that was the highlight of Paolo Di Canio’s time in charge.
“The atmosphere is absolutely sensational in these games. You will never hear anything like it in any football game you play in,” he said. “Winning that last one will affect this game. The Newcastle players and fans will remember the last game and want some revenge – it’s up to us to try and prevent them from doing that and to try and get ourselves the points that we obviousy need.”
For Vaughan, the poor performances on Saturday have opened the way to his potential involvement. He said: “The new manager seems good. I like the way he wants his teams to play and the methods in training. Hopefully I can get the chance to play and show what I can do now.”