JOHN O’Shea is adamant Monday night’s 2-1 defeat at Norwich City has not put Sunderland “back to square one” this season.
However, he realises they face another test of character at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.
When the Black Cats were last at home there was mounting pressure on manager Steve Bruce.
A 4-0 win over Stoke City – the Wearsiders’ first victory this season – seemed to have relieved the tension, only for the team to take a massive step backwards at Carrow Road.
Kieran Richardson’s late goal massaged the scoreline but with the game live on television and owner Ellis Short sat alongside chairman Niall Quinn in the directors’ box, there was no hiding from reality.
Back at home on Saturday, Bruce and his team will again be under the spotlight against West Bromwich Albion.
O’Shea, stand-in captain at Norwich with Lee Cattermole again on the bench, was sanguine about the prospect, insisting: “There is no extra pressure.
“Every game in the Premier League is a tough game. At home you are the favourites – we will be the favourites on Saturday. But basically we have to perform under that pressure. It is how you bounce back from difficult nights like Norwich and show what players you are to cope with that pressure.”
The Irishman denied the good work of the previous game had been totally erased by 90 disappointing minutes in East Anglia.
“I wouldn’t say it is back to square one,” he said. “It is disappointing and we are not trying to hide the fact.
“We came to Norwich very confident of getting the three points but we didn’t perform well enough. We are not creating too many clear-cut chances, we are not testing out back fours either.
“We know we need to improve but the players and everyone behind their scenes are working hard to make it happen.
“There are lots of players to fit in to the system for that to happen. Things can only get better and better. After such a great performance against Stoke, you come away from home and you have to get off to a great start.
“Unfortunately we didn’t and when you go 1-0 down, at the start of the second half the first thing you are saying is, ‘Let’s get at them in the first ten minutes’. But we conceded instead. That was disappointing.
“ In the first half we needed to turn them a lot more to get in behind them. We were just playing in front of them and we made their back four look very comfortable.
“Every time they attacked us they put it in behind us. We didn’t do that enough in the first half. We did it a little more in the second half.
“We needed better quality balls into the strikers. We did it against Stoke, the quality was excellent, but against Norwich it wasn’t there.”
What will have most frustrated Sunderland’s fans was that on paper, theirs was by far the better side. Whereas the Canaries looked well-drilled and athletic, their opponents appeared to lack confidence and direction.
“We were well aware of how Norwich would play,” O’Shea said. “If you come to a promoted team early in the season the atmosphere is electric and you know they will be up for it. We passed it around enough and we were able to cope with the pressure, but we were not clinical enough. It was comfortable for Norwich.
“We could have nicked an equaliser but it would not have been deserved. Sometimes it is like that in the Premier League. The consistency is what we need to find now.
“Some of the performances have been so good and others have been so bad. We have to find that level we know the players are capable of. There is no better opportunity than at home to West Brom.”
:: MIDFIELDER David Meyler played an hour in his second run-out since a serious knee injury as Sunderland reserves – also featuring out-of-favour defenders Nyron Nosworthy and Matt Kilgallon – lost 3-0 at West Brom.