GUSTAVO POYET thinks Sunderland have the creative players to give the fight for Premier League survival a much-needed boost in the remaining eight weeks of the season – but has urged them to prove it.
After another toothless performance in the final third against fellow strugglers Crystal Palace on Saturday, Poyet's team plans have been hit by news that £12m striker Steven Fletcher faces a further spell on the sidelines.
Fletcher twisted the ankle which has given him concern at different stages over the last 18 months and had to be withdrawn at half-time. He will have scans this morning to assess the extent of the damage.
He will be missing for this Saturday's next relegation encounter at Norwich City, where Poyet must decide whether to field Fabio Borini as an out and out striker or give Jozy Altidore another chance to show he can succeed in the top-flight.
Poyet needs to see improvement in front of goal and is pinning his hopes on a member of his squad showing a bit of magic; whether it is either of those or the likes of Adam Johnson or Emmanuel Giaccherini, who did not even make the bench against Palace.
“What’s missing is Adam Johnson in January, a player who is going to be player of the month and who is going to keep us up,” said Poyet, referring to the four-match unbeaten league run after the turn of the year when Johnson's wing play got Sunderland ticking.
“That’s what we need now. If we get a player of the month in April - I can’t say March now, because we’re in the middle of the month - then I’m telling you that we’ll stay up. That’s what we need. I’m not asking them as a form of criticism.
“It’s about standing up. If you look back, we’ve conceded four, three and three goals. On Saturday we didn’t concede. How many people will say we kept a clean sheet, that’s a positive? The idea was to win, but we tried.
“I think we’ve got that player, but listen - with all respect to everybody, this is why we are where we are. If we had a player like that for six months we would be tenth or ninth because one thing goes to the next. But it’s not easy.
“There is tension. We need it, every game. I want to come next week and depending on the result saying to you ‘that’s my team’. That’s all I ask, nothing else.”
Since defeating Newcastle comprehensively on February 1, Sunderland might have appeared at Wembley in the Capital One Cup final but they have not won in the Premier League. They have won just one of their last six in all competitions, scoring just twice.
It is hardly the ideal time to be going in to a trip to Norwich, where defeat could leave them bottom of the pile again ahead of games with Liverpool, West Ham, Tottenham, Everton and Chelsea.
“Look, if Jose Mourinho has said in the past that it’s better to have two games in hand then I’m going to take it,” said Poyet, knowing Sunderland are three points from safety but have played two games less than their rivals.
“That means we’re going to take six points! Listen, we cannot stop. That’s the best thing to say. We have a full week now. This week was tense, OK. It’s not nice when you lose two or three games in a row and the way that we lost last weekend meant that there was tension. But you have to be ready.”
As Poyet reflected on the events at the Stadium of Light on Saturday, he seemed calm and was not too despondent with the performance despite knowing his side clearly lacked something.
Poyet said: “I imagine that plenty of people will be very, very frustrated with that result, but I know the players and I know how much I can ask from them and they gave me everything.
“Would I like someone to do something spectacular and score a goal? Yes, but at the moment that’s not happening here, so the only thing I can ask is that they train well, prepare well, go on the pitch and give everything they’ve got with their own ability.
“We are where we are and we just need to make sure that we get that win that gives you that extra bit of confidence to go and win two or three. I can’t ask for more.”
Sunderland, meanwhile, have confirmed Steven Houston has been drafted in to work under the club's new director of football Lee Congerton.
Houston has been appointed head of scouting and player recruitment at the Wearside club, while Ryan Sachs has been promoted to club secretary and is head of football operations.