SUNDERLAND may have left Carrow Road without any points on Sunday, but Craig Gardner believes the squad should take confidence from their second half performance against Norwich City as they prepare to welcome Chelsea to the Stadium of Light.
It was a result that hinged on an abysmal first half performance which saw the Canaries take a two-goal lead before Gardner pulled one back out of nowhere for the Black Cats.
A galvanised team returned from the dressing room after the interval, but their failings in the opening 45 meant they were always chasing the game. They did come close to drawing level on several occasions, but they paid for what was arguably the worst Sunderland have played this season.
However, with games against Chelsea, Reading and Manchester United in the coming weeks, Gardner insists there is no point in dwelling on Sunday’s defeat, and believes the best thing the squad can do is take confidence from their improved second half display.
“If we lose a game, we need to pick the positives out of the game and move on. There’s no point dwelling or sulking for three or four days. The positive is how we played second half.
“I know it’s frustrating for the fans and it’s frustrating for us too. I know they work hard to come and see us play and we want to give them a bit of joy.
“We can take the confidence from the second half into Chelsea. There’s probably not one team that’s gone to Norwich and played them off the park like we did in the second half. They battered us first half, but we ran then ragged in the second half and had five or six clear chances – we just need to take them and we will.”
Teams often worry about the busy festive programme, but Gardner believes it presents the Black Cats with an opportunity to put a run together and climb up the table.
He said: “We haven’t moved forward (in the last year) but we have a chance to pick it up over the Christmas period.
“There’s a lot of games and I feel like we can really push on and so do all the other players.
Maybe the more games we play the more points we get and hopefully I’m right.”
O’Neill admitted afterwards that his side had contributed massively to their own failings.
Gardner echoes his manager’s analysis, but admitted he was bewildered as to why one half was so bad and the other so good.
“Of course the manager had words at half time,” Gardner revealed.
“We want to do well for the club. I can’t put my finger on what the transformation was.
It was like we needed to concede the goals to really lift us but we can’t do that. We need to lift it from the start.
“We are coming into games knowing we need to win, but we’re making it hard for ourselves conceding early.
“If we keep playing like we did in the second half we will be fine, honestly, we’ll be fine but we need to make it fine, we need to do something about it.
“We had said we were starting a little too slow and before we know it we’re two goals down.
“I pulled one back just before the second half and then I had one cleared off the line, I had one hit the post. Killa (Kilgallon) could have scored, Connor could have scored and Sess (Sessegnon) could have scored. We could have won it 5-2 any other day but we can’t keep standing here after games. We have to pick ourselves up.
“There’s no excuses anymore.
We know we can do it.
If we play like we did in the second half for a whole game we will win games comfortably.
We have to take that into next week. Chelsea will be a tough game. They need a win as much as we do and we really need to get it.
“That second half was a sign, like Everton away, that we are slowly starting to find it, but we need to find it quicker.
We have to really push on now.”