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Match analysis: Sunderland 0 Norwich City 0
GUS POYET has joked that only Luis Suarez can save Sunderland’s season now.
Suarez’s brace for Liverpool against Cardiff City this weekend pushed the Uruguayan international to 19 Premier League goals. Sunderland, collectively, have scored just 12. Their top scorer is defender Phil Bardsley who has notched two - but his net contribution is zero having scored two own goals at the other end.
FESTIVE PUNCH: Norwich goalkeeper John Ruddy clears the ball to thwart this Sunderland attack during Saturday’s goalless draw at the Stadium of Light
The situation is grave for the Black Cats. Two points have been gained from stalemates against Norwich City and at West Ham United, but four points have been dropped, and while the Black Cats’ draw against the Canaries cut the gap between bottom and 17th by one point, failure to beat their fellow strugglers damaged their attempts to avoid relegation to the Championship.
Poyet is becoming more and more frustrated at his side’s inconsistency, and described Saturday’s 0-0 draw against Norwich City as being technically one of the worst performances by a team at the bottom of the league that he has ever seen.
“We need to get Suarez,” joked Poyet, who will be without Wes Brown for the festive period after the defender was sent off in the dying seconds on Saturday. “I watched him a little bit this morning. He’s not bad is he?
“Every time we do something nice, the next game is worse. Here we are. I know people say after five or six games that maybe the table doesn’t show what a team is all about - you can have bad luck or something - but now we’re nearly halfway through.
“I was expecting to win, with all respect to the opposition. I’m not getting involved with the opposition, but everything was set for us to win. There were no excuses and confidence was high.
“The style of play has been good, so has our defensive work, we’ve been keeping clean sheets, we just needed to be ourselves. In the first-half, we were awful. Technically, we were as bad as any team I’ve seen at the bottom of the table.
“There were passes that scared me a lot and decision making inside the box. Shooting, taking three touches or going to the wrong side.
“It was shocking. It could be nerves, it could be pressure, it could be quality, I don’t know. It could be the situation.
“If I’m the problem, I will accept the responsibility. I’m the manager and I’m the one picking the team. If I’m not good enough, I’ll take it. “At the end of the game, we had more chances, even though we were supposed to be tired after playing in midweek. We were getting chances and missing from two yards. I think Saturday gave us a clear picture of why we are bottom.”
Poyet will today be coming to terms with his side being bottom on Christmas Day - where only one team in 21 seasons of Premier League football have escaped the drop in May having languished at the foot of the table while the Queen’s Speech is being delivered.
The side that bucked the trend, West Bromwich Albion, were five points adrift. Sunderland are four points away from West Ham but, had they beat the Hammers and the Canaries, they would have been out of the drop zone.
Unlike previous games, there have been no factors mitigating Sunderland’s inability to take victories in the last two matchdays. And while the Black Cats are strong in two-thirds of the pitch, they cannot score goals and make good their chances in the final third.
The first half was a tentative affair, with both sides restricted largely to shots from outside of the penalty box, with Seb Larsson, Lee Cattermole, Fabio Borini and Bardsley all firing in shots in a fair distance from John Ruddy's goal.
At the other end, Nathan Redmond had a fine effort tipped around the post by Vito Mannone, while the Italian made similarly impressive stops from Gary Hooper and Leroy Fer towards the end of the half.
The second half took its time to get going, although Sunderland made more inroads into the penalty area, Borini's tame shot denied by Ruddy on 64 minutes before Brown's header hit the post after substitute Steven Fletcher prodded goalwards from Ondrej Celustka's flick-on.
Cattermole had an appeal for a penalty turned down on 72 minutes when he was nudged off the ball by Hooper, with Martin Atkinson taking a long look at it before deciding to wave play on.
Once Fletcher had been introduced, Sunderland looked sharper going forward, with the Scotsman's effort on goal being blocked superbly by Turner, before Bardsley's close-range header was comfortably held by Ruddy moments later, while Mannone had to be on his toes to save smartly from Ricky van Wolfswinkel at the other end.
But Sunderland's best chance came on 82 minutes when Ruddy came out to intercept, Borini slipped past him and centred for Ki, who lobbed over the cross bar from 20 yards.
The Black Cats could not find the breakthrough and tempers threatened to boil over when Brown saw red for a poor tackle on van Wolfswinkel with seconds remaining.
Sunderland travel to Goodison Park on Boxing Day to face Everton, before a trip to Cardiff City the following Saturday. Even at this stage of the season, opportunities to get out of danger are getting few and far between. Poyet knows the task at hand.
“I am a machine. I will come in on Monday and I’ll start talking about Everton,” said the manager. “I’ll concentrate on picking the right team and making sure the players know how we can play against them, how we need to manage the game. Then it’s about quality and decision-making. It’s about putting the ball in the box.
“Was it a bad day at the office? Can we afford a bad day at the office? The answer is no we can’t.
“The team was the same against West Ham and practically the same team that finished against Chelsea, but we couldn’t put three passes together. As soon as we did that, we had half a chance.
“I was not praising myself last week, because we didn't win the game, but that was my team, Saturday was not.”
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