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Do new-look Sunderland believe they can survive?
Full-time: Swansea City 4 Sunderland 0
BELIEVE is likely to become the Wearside watchword in the months ahead while Gus Poyet tries to conjure up a way of transforming a group of Sunderland players seemingly destined for only one place this season: The Championship.
In the immediate aftermath of the heaviest defeat of the campaign so far – a 4-0 reversal to Swansea City in Poyet's first game in charge – Sunderland's new head coach spoke about survival being possible. Rejuvenated Lee Cattermole did too.
But how many more of the men inside that Sunderland dressing room share such a belief?
After collecting a single point from an opening eight Premier League games, the Black Cats are one of only four teams to have recorded such a meagre return over the last 20 years. Only one of those, Southampton in 1998/99, stayed up.
This opening also eclipses that of 2005/06 when Sunderland had accrued five points by this stage en route to the record low total of 15 which cost them top-flight status.
This season's return is now the only concern. Poyet must not only lift a squad clearly damaged by the effects of Paolo Di Canio's turbulent six-month spell in charge, but also get the best out of a long list of summer recruits looking well short of Premier League standard.
For that director of football Roberto De Fanti is responsible, while owner Ellis Short will not escape the blame game if Poyet fails to lead Sunderland to recovery.
Initially at Swansea there were signs of encouragement under the new boss. Defensively they looked stronger during the first half, while they could have taken the lead had Steven Fletcher done better with a wayward shot from Adam Johnson's near post corner.
On reflection, though, Swansea struggled to get their free-flowing passing style going during that period and when they did move through the gears after the restart Sunderland had no answer to them.
Once Phil Bardsley, who had gone close to finding the net at the other end moments earlier on his return, had turned in a Jonathan De Guzman corner beyond Keiren Westwood, the fragility of Sunderland's defending became all too apparent.
Heads went down, confidence quickly disappeared and there looked a real lack of desire to claw Sunderland back in to the game. Poyet might have been all smiles during the first half, but he hardly moved from his seat in the dug-out thereafter.
“Every week you go out thinking we can do it this week and we’re working really hard, but then you’re out there and it’s a different situation – the ball doesn’t drop for you – it goes in off someone’s thigh,” said Cattermole.
“We need to keep going – I believe it can turn and I’m sure the other players do, if they don’t they better start believing.
“We’ve got to work hard, the manager’s come in and we need to play the way he wants us to. That’s why the club have appointed him. You’ll see changes in the team and we need to be patient and hope it’ll turn.”
Given how Cattermole is one of the main characters in the dressing room when it comes to inspiration, it is incredible to think Di Canio left him in the cold for so long.
Under Poyet the Stockton-born midfielder's role will be enormous if Sunderland are to stay in the Premier League. He was arguably Sunderland's best outfield player at the Liberty Stadium, where his ball through for the wasteful Fabio Borini deserved more than a finish over the bar.
Had that gone in then Sunderland would have been back in it. Instead Sunderland fell further and further behind on their way to a sixth consecutive Premier League defeat.
Adam Johnson tries to trick Swansea's Angel Rangel
If there was misfortune about the way Swansea's opener bounced over the line off Bardsley's knee from De Guzman's delivery in the 57th minute, mistakes were apparent in the other three.
While De Guzman's brilliance secured the second of the afternoon from 25 yards when he curled inside Westwood's top left corner, it took an age for any Sunderland shirt to close him down.
Then Craig Gardner ridiculously tripped Leon Britton in the area when there was little danger and striker Wilfried Bony stroked in the penalty with precision. Those three goals arrived in seven second half minutes.
Had it not been Westwood, who made an incredible flying save from De Guzman's volley and then another from Michu's header, Sunderland would have been embarrassed further.
They did suffer from a fourth goal. Unsurprisingly it came from a corner and it was the sixth set-piece goal they have conceded during the opening eight games this season.
De Guzman's corner looked harmless enough. Valentin Roberge went to sleep in allowing Chico Flores to arrive in the area to bundle over the line off Fletcher. John O'Shea simply waved his arms in the air in disbelief.
Sunderland's players were in no mood to talk to the media after the match, but Cattermole did stand up and sympathised with the 1,000-strong contingent of away fans who had made the 700-mile round trip.
He said: “All we can do is give our best – we really appreciate the support we’ve had from the fans, especially coming all the way down to Swansea - I know it’s a long way - believe me the players are just as frustrated as they are.
“We’ve got a good few weeks ahead of us to work together as a team. We know we’re in a fight and we need to pick some points up quickly.”
With Newcastle United next on the agenda at a packed and volatile Stadium of Light, a repeat showing of the Swansea mess would not be acceptable on Wearside.
WORST PREMIER LEAGUE STARTS
Manchester City P8 1pt Relegated? YES
Southampton P8 1pt Relegated? NO
Sheffield Wed P8 1pt Relegated? YES
Sunderland P8 1pt Relegated? UNKNOWN
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