John O'Shea is seeing signs that Sunderland are starting to learn a new way of playing under Gustavo Poyet.
The Black Cats have had four different people – manager Martin O’Neill, caretaker Kevin Ball and coaches Poyet and Paolo Di Canio – in charge during 2013, each with their own philosophy on the game. For the Ireland international, who worked with one manager in his 12 years at Manchester United, it has been a bit of a culture shock.
Poyet’s approach puts the most emphasis on possession and there were signs in his last two games, wins over Southampton and Manchester City, that his players are taking the new approach on board.
“The manager is slowly but surely getting his message across to the lads which is obviously not going to happen instantly because the lads have had so much in their heads (over) the last five or six months,” said captain O’Shea.
“The gaffer and his coaching team have been fantastic in just sticking to their guns in terms of how they want us to play. It will take a bit of time but hopefully you saw glimpses, against Southampton in particular, in terms of trying to keep the ball that bit more and make teams works harder to get the ball from us. Hopefully that means more attacking and less defending.”
With 14 new players signed in the summer, stability has been in desperately short supply at the Stadium of Light this year.
“It has been interesting to say the least but it’s the classic cliché – nothing surprises you in football, even here,” said O’Shea. “You are trying to get the first couple of wins and then it wasn’t coming, then the change of manager and you just hope everything settles down and you can concentrate on winning football matches, which is what we’re trying to do.
“Obviously there are different players playing and in terms of tactics it is not that you can’t do it but it is about becoming accustomed to teams playing in a certain way.
“It does not just happen overnight it has taken a bit of time and consistency to do that.”
Taking over the team seven games into a 38-match Premier League season, Poyet was always going to have to work quickly to instill his ideas. But O’Shea has been impressed by the Uruguayan.
“He has been fantastic in terms of preparation, his coaching team is a great group of people and they have really settled in, made the place enjoyable in terms of working hard as always,” he said. Steven Fletcher thinks the new style is making better use of Sunderland’s players.
“The manager wants us to keep the ball a lot more and we know if we do that we are not going to get rolled over by other teams, so we have been trying to do that,” he said.
“We have certainly done that a lot more in our last couple of games.
“We were quite a direct team only a few months ago, but we know we have the type of players who can keep the ball, so why not use that?”