Gustavo Poyet is refusing to sacrifice his principles in the desperate search for Premier League points.
Sunderland’s 2-1 defeat at home to Tottenham Hotspur cut them further adrift at the bottom of the table. The Black Cats remain five points adrift of safety, but new managers at Crystal Palace and Fulham have given both clubs fresh momentum in their own fights against relegation.
Palace won twice last week by taking on a more direct approach under Tony Pulis, but purist Poyet is adamant his side can only survive by playing a passing game.
“To play football is not just about running up and down and kicking it because the more we kick it, the more open we become and the more the opposition has the ball,” argued Sunderland’s Uruguayan coach. “There were a few breaks against Tottenham when we could have conceded.
“Playing that way doesn’t save you, I promise you.
“All the teams who have played like that in the last 10 years have gone down, the only one who did not were Wigan, somehow, playing football, passing the football, being difficult for the opposition and dominating the game. The rest, they didn’t.”
Poyet enjoyed great success on a tight budget as manager of Brighton and Hove Albion in League One and the Championship by playing a brand of football based on patient possession play similar to the style Roberto Martinez employed at Wigan Athletic.
Although there has been a noted improvement in that regard since Poyet took over in October, Sunderland are still a long way short. Incredibly, they are yet to have more of the ball than the opposition in any of his eight league games in charge.
The suspicion therefore remains that Sunderland’s players are simply not good enough for the level they are at. Poyet is keen for director of football Roberto De Fanti to make signings in January, despite the Italian having brought 14 new players to the club in the last transfer window. While Poyet has refused to put a number to it, he is expected to look for three or four new players, with the need for more cutting edge up front the most pressing of many concerns.
As recently as a week ago, the mood seemed to be that while Sunderland had tightened up impressively at the back, scoring goals was their over-riding problem but since then cracks have appeared at the opposite end.
The Black Cats found the net four times in back-to-back home games against top-of-the-table opposition last week, taking the lead against Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur. But they conspired to lose both, conceding six goals in the process.
Spurs’ winner on Saturday was a John O’Shea own goal, the fifth Sunderland have shipped in this season’s Premier League.
Midfielder Jack Colback identified his team’s propensity to gift easy goals to the opposition as a major concern, and described the defeat as a wasted opportunity.
“It was important for us to get something from Saturday’s game and we weren’t able to do that,” he told his club’s official website.
“We’re taking the lead in games and then conceding soft goals.
“We’re letting teams get back in the game, instead we need to be able to protect the lead in games.
“Losing the game is hard to take and it’s frustrating but we can’t feel sorry for ourselves, we need to go out and start winning games and taking points.”
Meanwhile, Andre Marriner has been appointed as the referee for Saturday’s game at West Ham United. The West Midlands official has taken charge of one Black Cats’ match this season, sending off Lee Cattermole and Andrea Dossena in first-half added time at Hull City.