Gus Poyet not getting many fringe benefits from Sunderland squad

Chief Sports writer Mark Douglas gives a preview of Sunderland's match tonight against Southampton

Sunderland head coach Gus Poyet

The final death rattle of Paolo Di Canio’s summer “revolution” might be heard echoing around the Stadium of Light tonight.

Depending on the identity of the eleven named on Gus Poyet’s team sheet at around 6.30 tonight, an ill-conceived plan germinated and hatched by Sunderland’s closed shop of Italian recruiters might be finally damned to the merest footnote in Sunderland’s proud history.

The Uruguyan (below) suggested there would be a minimal number of changes yesterday. Lee Cattermole and Andrea Dossena we know about – both will serve three-match bans after their weekend indiscretions – but there will be other players who make way. It is those that come in that will tell us much about the future direction of Sunderland under their new boss.

In short, if Poyet continues to shy away from the 14 summer arrivals that were supposed to constitute a new dawn it will speak volumes for the level of trust the Black Cats manager has for the likes of Cabral, Mo Diakite and company.

Poyet is a bridge builder by nature and - beneath the smile - an arch-pragmatist. He knows that Sunderland’s Premier League status is dangling by a thread and even if he came into the Black Cats hot-seat fully aware of the historical failings of the players recruited by Steve Bruce and Martin O’Neill, they represent a safer bet than the unknowns Di Canio felt were ushering in a “revolution”.

Yesterday, he singularly failed to offer them much in the way of a route back into the first-team picture. Jozy Altidore, Ondrej Celustka, Emanuel Giaccherini and Vito Mannone - who Poyet suggests was close to starting against Hull - are all possible contenders for another chance but Cabral, Diakite and Valentin Roberge remain in the cold.

None are guaranteed starters, which is something close to extraordinary given the time, preparation and effort that supposedly went into Sunderland’s summer of change.

No team that has struggled like Sunderland have can afford to dismiss the Capital One Cup, and a place in the last eight is a tangible reward for Poyet’s Cats as they face a Southampton team that has been among the most impressive of this Premier League season.

They will make changes – nine was the suggestion from the South Coast last night – but it is Sunderland’s performance levels which are most exercising Poyet.

Cup or not, he is demanding more professionalism, consistency and application than the team have shown so far.

“What we’re trying to do is to do it our way and it’s been good so far but time will tell.

“It’s all about winning games, we can talk and talk and everyone’s got an opinion because it’s free. If we had to pay to make an opinion then no one would talk.

“It’s about doing it on the pitch, that’s when we should do our talking. I didn’t like the first half against Hull at all, it was the worst.

“At Swansea we conceded four with two own goals and a silly penalty and we played really bad for my standards in the first half against Hull.

At half-time with the two sendings off and the keeper injured it looked terrible and I imagine the Sunderland fans fearing the worst but what we did in the second half, not many teams could have done that. We need to be a 90 minutes team, not just 45 minutes.”

It was suggested to Poyet yesterday that his team might need to enlist the help of psychologists to try and halt the maddening inconsistency of performances that is threatening their survival fight.

He replied: “I believe in what I do and there are some groups of players who need a bit of extra help so I’m not closing the door to anything at the moment.

“I don’t think it’s needed at the moment but we’ll see in the future. I’m trying to adapt and help the players as much as I can but at the moment I don’t think it’s a problem. If an individual wants to go to somebody I’m happy to help.”

The problem, of course, might be that the players assembled by Roberto De Fanti during his unhappy alliance with Di Canio are not actually good enough.

Poyet did not say that explicitly but there were clear hints in his dissection of Cabral – available for all three games but yet to make the bench – that there are doubts about his suitability for Premier League football.

The visit of Southampton offers a counter-point to the botched job that Sunderland did. True, the South Coast side courted controversy by jettisoning boss Nigel Adkins with the team safely middle of the table but in hindsight, handing the reins to Mauricio Pochettino in the middle of the season was a smart move.

It allowed him to assess his squad and to bring in players ready to attack the top eight. By contrast, Poyet will be using the fortnight off that makes up the international break to decide whether the players he has inherited have a future with Sunderland.

It is a lesson in long-term planning that Poyet thinks other clubs should heed.

He said: “They’ve done something that I really like. They’ve maintained a group of players who know how the club wants to play and they’ve added in three or four key positions very well and that’s a good way to go forward when you learn slowly and you know how you’re wanted to play.

“It was great for Pocchetino to finish last season checking on plenty of things.

“He had a whole pre-season to help them start the way they’ve started. It was very clever of the club and is the way you’d have liked to have done it. Sometimes, you don’t have time to plan because you’re playing for things and you can’t plan for the future but Southampton will be a very difficult team to play against.”

It is difficult to know exactly which Saints side will turn up against Sunderland given the number of changes they are likely to make. Again, that hour-and-a-half before kick-off when the team-sheets are handed in could be crucial for Poyet as he plots a route into a potential last eight confrontation with Chelsea.

Before that, the sizeable hurdle of Southampton stands in his way.

He said: “They’ve been so good this season, even against Man U away they were coming and coming and going for the goal until they got it and that’s a great belief they’ve got. Is that going to change tomorrow? We’ll see.

“It’s not a game you can plan for and know more or less the team he’s going to play. If it was a league game tomorrow I’d know nine players who are going to play but I don’t have a clue who he will play tomorrow.

“So we need to know what we’re doing and when we get the team sheet, we’ll see if we can impart some information into the squad.”


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer