Kevin Ball was "encouraged" despite seeing his Sunderland side beaten 3-1 by Liverpool.
The Black Cats played some good football yesterday and showed decent spirit, but ultimately the Reds showed the cutting edge which has put them among the front-runners in the early Premier League table.
Daniel Sturridge scored his sixth goal this season and set up Luis Suarez for two more on his first Premier League outing since April 21, the day after Sunderland’s last league win.
When Suarez scored his first, after 37 minutes, the game looked up for the bottom-of-the-table Wearsiders, but they refused to accept defeat, Emanuele Giaccherini reducing the deficit to 2-1 five minutes into the second half. That spirit pleased caretaker manager Ball, who tried to inspire his players with a pre-match walk along the shoreline.
“There were parts of the game where I thought we played very well and there were other spells when we just had to stay in the game,” he reflected. “It’s important in those spells you have to make them count and when you’re out of possession then you have something to defend.
“If you’d had a game where the players hadn’t put a shift in and worked hard you’d be disappointed – but I’ve been encouraged by what I’ve seen this week. The result wasn’t for the lack of trying and the players drove on well.
“Before the game I said to the players it was about the performance – yes we need points but the performance is key. I took the players along the seafront for a walk to see the people they play for. I thought they put in a good performance.
“I’ve not had a big chat with them after the game. They chased it very positively and feel a little flat afterwards, so it was important not to speak to them too much.”
Ball admitted it had been a difficult balancing act between trying to chase goals and leaving his team vulnerable. Suarez’s second goal came on the counter-attack on 88 minutes.
“You’ve got to try and get a balance,” said Ball. “If we’d sat off deep and lost 1-0 would people have said we should have had a go? We’d like to play attacking football but a lot of Liverpool’s counter attacks were broken up by Lee Cattermole. He was excellent but a second game in a short space of time caught up with him, understandably given his long spell out.”
Jozy Altidore, one of only three summer signings to start for Sunderland, is still looking for his maiden Premier League goal for the Black Cats.
Ball added: “From Jozy’s point of view he wants to score goals and it’s important we don’t let him get too frustrated.
“There were parts of his game where I’d have like to see him turn and shoot more but that’s something we’ll talk about.”
Ball has made it clear he wants the manager’s job permanently after 12 games as a caretaker in 2006 and last week, but was playing it cool afterwards.
He said: “Would I ask for a meeting with the board? The first thing I’ll do is see the players and go over this game after training and if the opportunity arises I’ll have a chat. I give credit to the board for the way they’ve communicated things but I’ve not heard anything.
“If they want me to take it forward to the Manchester United game (at home on Saturday) then great but it’s the boards’s prerogative so I’m sure I’ll speak to them.”
Chief executive Margaret Byrne used her programme notes to stress Sunderland will not be rushed into an appointment, having only perhaps realised the full magnitude of their last decision after Paolo Di Canio was given the job.
She wrote: “Clearly as a matter of priority our efforts are presently focused on appointing a new head coach. As you would expect with a position of this magnitude, there has been a lot of interest, however, there is no definitive timescale on an appointment, as we are carefully examining all of the options available to us.
”We have had contact with some interested parties already and have others to speak to in the coming days.”