Steven Fletcher believes Sunderland have been lifted by the enthusiasm of Gustavo Poyet and the return to fitness of Wes Brown.
Poyet inherited a team in grave danger with just a point from their first seven Premier League games this season. But three wins in the last four matches, all against top-half opposition, have brought fresh optimism to Wearside.
Helped by the return to fitness of Brown and Fletcher, Poyet has introduced a new style of play. But Scotland striker Fletcher thinks his most important contribution has been to lift the mood after Paolo Di Canio’s dictatorial spell as coach.
“It’s been great for myself under the new boss,” said Fletcher, who was unable to play under interim manager Kevin Ball because of a dislocated shoulder picked up in the Italian’s final match. “I’ve had a few problems with injuries and he has really looked after me so I’m very grateful.
“He is very enthusiastic, which is fantastic and he comes in with a bright and happy smile on his face, as do his assistants. It’s good to see that at the training ground every day. It does help because it gives everyone a lift.”
It would take a big win at Stoke City on Saturday to lift the Black Cats out of the relegation zone, but the fact they are within three points of safety is encouragement in itself.
“There are so many points to play for and so many games ahead of us,” Fletcher commented. “We have a great opportunity now with the new gaffer and the new staff he has brought in.
“They are trying to change the way we are playing and that’s for the better. The boys know that the gaffer can get things going in the right direction and they are right behind him as you could see in the (Manchester) City game, where we were prepared to battle for everything even against one of the best teams in Europe.
“I don’t really look at the table all the time, but the next time I do it will at least look a little bit better. You have to take each game as it comes and not put yourselves under too much pressure from outside as we are under enough pressure as it is.”
The quality of their performances and the solidity provided by the return of much-decorated defender Brown (pictured left) for the last two-and-a-half games has created a momentum which Sunderland could have done without the international break interrupting.
“We took the performance against Southampton (in the League Cup) into the City match and I think you could see the level of confidence we displayed was as a result of the way we performed just a few days previously. Football is like that.
“All of a sudden there is a bit of confidence and belief amongst the boys and you can see that. We got the points against City (winning 1-0) and nobody can say we didn’t deserve them.
“It’s incredible really, our run against them. I didn’t know until after the game when someone said that is the fourth year in a row we have beaten them and all by the same scoreline. Hopefully it is an omen and we can keep that sort of performance going and more importantly that sort of run of results.”
Brown could become as important to Sunderland at the back as Fletcher has been up front. The worry with the former Manchester United and England defender is always his fitness record, having missed 21 months with a variety of problems, mainly to his knees.
“Wes is a great player, who won everything there is to win at United,” Fletcher reflected. “He has showed in just a couple of games that he is just class. He would be very important to any side, so we have to hope he can enjoy a string of games because he would make a difference to any team at any level.”