TITUS Bramble is refusing to throw the towel in on the chase for Europe if it gives Sunderland something to play for this season.
One point from a possible 18 – the worst form in the Premier League – has seen the Black Cats’ season implode at a critical moment.
Coinciding with Liverpool’s resurgence and Birmingham City’s League Cup win, it has seriously damaged hopes of qualifying for the Europa League.
With eight games left, Sunderland now trail Tottenham Hotspur by five points – and the Londoners have a game in hand. Even Bramble realises it is a long shot, but does not want his team to give in and let a promising campaign slip away.
“It’s just a case of trying to finish as high as possible,” he argued. “Europe’s still not out of the question, we’ve still got to have some sort of aim. We’ll still aim for Europe and if not Europe, we’ll try to finish as high as we can.
“As a player you don’t want people to slack off, and you don’t want to be playing for nothing in the last seven or eight games. The manager and the coaching staff will make sure that doesn’t happen.”
In Bramble’s – and Lee Cattermole and Steve Bruce’s – last season there, Wigan Athletic were pushing for European qualification at the turn of the year only to finish 11th, undermined by mid-term sales.
“This is nothing new to me,” said former Newcastle United defender Bramble.
“Bolo (Boudewijn Zenden)’s great around the dressing room as well because he’s been there and done it, so he was in the dressing room after the (Liverpool) game picking everyone up and making sure their heads don’t drop.
“It’s good to have experienced players around the squad.”
While Sunderland’s current run of fixtures looked extremely tough on paper, the opposite can be said of their last seven. After the trip to Manchester City a week tomorrow, the Black Cats have only one game against a side above them, at seventh-placed Bolton Wanderers.
“If we play like we did in the previous games, other than the Everton game, we’re confident we’ll get back to winning ways,” Bramble (pictured right) said. “It is a worry we’ve lost five out of six but decisions have gone against us.
“Against Liverpool, for example, that should never have been a penalty. Had that been a free-kick and we’d not conceded, we could have gone on and won.
“A lot went wrong for us. I think we just need a bit of luck to get back to winning ways. We’re confident we can go (to Eastlands) and get a result because we know how well we can play. I don’t see why we can’t.
“We’ve got nothing to fear from Manchester City, we’ve beaten them before. If we play to our capabilities we can give anyone a good game.
“We go into every game with no fear.
“That’s credit to the coaching staff, the manager and the players.”
Meanwhile, Argentina right-back Marcos Angeleri has launched a bitter attack on manager Bruce, claiming racism is to blame for his only having played 99 minutes of football for Sunderland. “The boss doesn’t talk to me,” said the 27-year- old, away on international duty.
“He doesn’t even say hello to me when he sees me.
“I think he doesn’t like me because I’m not English.
“Steve Bruce is not a nice person at all. He is a little unpleasant.
“I have played just a few minutes in Sunderland since my arrival. I want to play, that’s my job.
“That’s why I’m not happy in Sunderland. I don’t understand why I’m not playing. The boss is too defensive.”
For a defender to claim he is being held back because of an over-defensive manager seems as strange as labelling a man famed for his cosmopolitan recruitment policy as racist.