SUNDERLAND were relieved to finally get their first win of the season against Stoke City, but goalkeeper Simon Mignolet says it will count for nothing if they lose at Norwich City on Monday.
Sunday’s 4-0 win over the Potters was important for the Belgian and his team. As well as breaking the Black Cats’ duck for 2011-12, it was only their second clean sheet of the campaign.
“I did well against Stoke but there’s another game on Monday night and if I don’t perform there then all the good performances of the past, nobody thinks about that,” argued Mignolet. “The most important thing for me is to play well against Norwich.
“I was happy because when you play Stoke you know you’re always going to be under pressure, but the defence did well and protected me as well as they could.
“In training we did a bit on how Stoke were going to play and I think we responded well as a team.
“If you are going to lose the next game then the win against Stoke doesn’t mean anything. Hopefully we can move on. The confidence must be there now and we can get some points out of the next few games.”
Sunderland undoubtedly caught Tony Pulis’ notoriously awkward side at the right time. Stoke are far more formidable at home, and had a marathon journey back from Europa League duty in Kiev on Thursday and Friday to contend with.
None of that will matter to the Black Cats, though, who will take great self-belief from the manner of their victory.
“It was a relief to get the win, for the confidence of the team it was very important,” commented Mignolet. “We scored early on and it made things a lot easier for us. We went on to score more and it allowed us to play our game. Hopefully it’s a good start for the next games where we can get some points.”
After two draws and three defeats (most embarrassingly to Championship side Brighton and Hove Albion in the League Cup), there was a growing feeling that manager Steve Bruce was under pressure from supporters after a summer of heavy recruitment, albeit not one in which a massive amount was spent in transfer fees.
The most alarming factor had been the shortage of Sunderland goals in the first five matches. Ji Dong-Won, still making the transition from Korean League to Premier League, was the only striker to find the net in that period, midfielder Sebastian Larsson scoring the other goal.
“I don’t think it was pressure, the biggest problem was confidence,” Mignolet reflected. “If you don’t score goals and you concede sometimes, which you’re obviously going to get, and you start losing games suddenly everyone is doubting his own ability.
“To score four goals and keep a clean sheet against a tough team like Stoke was great. Everybody wants to win every game and if things are going well it starts to get difficult. Now hopefully it was a good moment to turn things around.
“That (supporter restlessness) is what you’re going to get. If the fans start doubting then obviously it starts for us.
“The team read the papers as well but I’m happy people enjoyed the game and we won comfortably. The confidence is there, the strikers scored goals and they are looking forward to the next game, whereas if you lose you look back and think what you could have done, but I think everyone is looking forward to Norwich.”
Meanwhile, midfielder David Meyler made his first appearance since January for Sunderland’s reserves last night.
The 22-year-old, who suffered cruciate ligament damage to the same knee in successive seasons, featured against Gateshead.