'We've got match-winners, now it's time to prove it' says Sunderland winger

First published in Sport The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Chief Football/Golf Writer

JUST seven days after Gustavo Poyet highlighted his wish for Sunderland to find a little bit of magic to get his side out of trouble, winger Adam Johnson thinks this afternoon's trip to Carrow Road could be the ideal place to start.

Johnson was named the Barclays Premier League player of the month in January for his run of seven goals in nine games for the Black Cats, form which even led to calls for his inclusion in the England squad.

But since then Sunderland's dip in form has coincided with the 26-year-old's reduction in his goal output, even if he has remained arguably the most creative player in the side.

That was the case again last week when Crystal Palace left the Stadium of Light with a goalless draw and a point, when Johnson's verve on the wing was insufficient to secure a much-needed win for Sunderland.

But with a trip to fellow strugglers Norwich City on the agenda this afternoon, Johnson feels outings outside of Wearside could be exactly what Poyet needs for his team to start firing again.

“Norwich will have to come at us a little and they will have seen how good we have been at times away from home,” said Johnson. “It will be a bit more open for us, more space, but the onus will be on the home team to force something. If we can exploit that, that will be great.

“If you are not one of the big teams then there is that much expectancy on teams to win at home that teams are scared to concede so they are afraid to attack almost.

“Our most creative players get more space away from home. At home it can be difficult against two banks of four, like last week against Crystal Palace. At times we need to get higher up and it's easier to do that away from home. It's totally different.”

Before the defeat to Arsenal in Sunderland's last away date in the Premier League, Poyet's team had been unbeaten in their previous six league games on their travels.

Johnson was a key factor during that run of results and it contributed to him winning his player of the month award, an accolade Poyet hopes will fall Sunderland's way again before the end of the season.

“One piece of brilliance will decide games for us now because it is so tight so you can understand what the manager is saying,” said Johnson. “Like against Palace, if Fabio Borini scored after his lovely turn then we would have won.

“We just need match winners from somewhere. One piece of brilliance can win it and boost our chances of staying up. That's what we need.

“Against Palace it was not a classic, we had a few chances, it was a bit scrappy, but with one goal we would have won it. That's what it can take.

“I can't remember the last time we were gifted a goal. It would help if we can get a few of those running our way too because we have given other teams a few.”

If Johnson is not the man to find the breakthrough, like he has been so often since the turn of the year, then Sunderland need for someone else to do just that.

He said: “We have the quality of players to win games. We have shown that over the season. Everyone will blame the two strikers for not scoring and Steven Fletcher and Jozy Altidore will be the first to admit they have not contributed like they should.

“But Jozy has shown at times – even against Palace I felt a bit sorry for him with the one the keeper saved – that he has the ability and quality to deliver. It's just about getting the consistency. Fletcher has had his injuries, it's been a bit stop-start, but we have the match-winners.”

Sunderland sit three points shy of fourth from bottom so know a victory at Norwich City could prove essential in their fight to avoid the drop.

Despite being well aware that the final two matches of the season against West Brom and Swansea City are both at the Stadium of Light, there is a desire from within the group to have top-flight status preserved long before that.

Johnson said: “We have Norwich, Liverpool and West Ham up next. I think Norwich and West Ham are big games for us.

“If we can pick up six or nine points before the hard games we have coming up then that would give us the breathing space. We don't want to go in to those last two home games needing to win.

“I think there are a couple of teams above West Brom who will be right in it still in a few weeks time. There are still teams with 30 points and they are nowhere near safe yet.

“Two wins and two defeats for those and we will have overtaken them. It's about getting the points now. We won't be fearing going anywhere.”

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