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Vaughan admits Sunderland are suffering from 'crisis of confidence'
A FRANK David Vaughan has admitted Sunderland's players are suffering from a crisis of confidence as they attempt to turn their season around.
The Black Cats slipped to within four points of the relegation zone in the wake of Sunday's failure to beat a Norwich side that was forced to play with ten men for more than an hour.
Martin O'Neill's men have failed to win any of their last seven matches, and given that their next two fixtures pit them against Manchester United and Chelsea, there is every chance their relegation worries could intensify ahead of next month's pivotal Tyne-Wear derby with Newcastle.
On the evidence of Sunday's lacklustre display, Sunderland are every bit as poor as their lowly league position suggests, and Vaughan accepts a lack of confidence is having a crippling effect on the players' attempts to extricate themselves from the battle against the drop.
"Sunday was such a disappointment," said the Welsh midfielder, who has left Wearside to link up with his international team-mates ahead of Friday's World Cup qualifier with Scotland. "We didn't really create any clear-cut chances after they (Norwich) went down to ten men. We didn't put nearly enough pressure on them and it was a frustrating afternoon.
"A lack of confidence is possibly a reason. We are on a bad run and it is difficult to keep confidence high. But we have to play our games and keep trying to do our best.
"If I knew what had gone wrong and what has been missing this season, I would be the next manager of Barcelona. That's the key question, isn't it?
"Maybe it's about finding that spark, a bit of luck or a goal that turns a game in our favour, something we did a few times last season.
"It is hard to accept that we are in this situation. When you look at the squad we have, we should not be in the position we are in.
"But the fact is we are where we are and that is down to us players, coaching staff and everyone at the club. It is our fault, nobody else's, and it's up to us to get ourselves out of this."
The difficulty, of course, is that with every game that passes, the pressure on Sunderland's players goes up another level.
From a position of relative security in the middle of January, when they were eyeing a top-ten finish from 11th position, the Wearsiders have tumbled down the table to the point where 17th-placed Aston Villa are now only one point behind them.
With both Villa and Wigan tackling home matches when the domestic programme resumes a week on Saturday, the situation could be even more alarming if Sunderland fail to see off Manchester United at the Stadium of Light.
Given that the game is only two days before the champions-elect face Chelsea in an FA Cup quarter-final replay, Sir Alex Ferguson could opt to rest some key players for his trip to the North-East.
Nevertheless, the Black Cats will still have to handle the pressure of the occasion in a much more positive fashion than they have managed for most of the last two months.
"There is pressure on us right now," admitted Vaughan. "You do feel it before games, but once you go out on the pitch you put that to the back of your mind and concentrate on playing football.
"Maybe people need to let off the shackles and just go out there and play. Of course, that's easier when the pressure is off, but we get paid to be professional footballers and need to handle this.
"There are quite a few guys in the dressing room who have been doing this for a long time, so it's our responsibility."
And while the fixture list might appear daunting, it is worth bearing in mind that Sunderland have already beaten Manchester City on home soil this season.
"You can't help but look at the fixtures that are ahead of us, especially at this stage of the season and for the fact we really need the points," said Vaughan. "But we have actually done a bit better against the top teams so I am hopeful we can get the points we need."