WES BROWN insists Sunderland’s players will not be throwing in the towel despite Monday’s 2-1 defeat to West Ham leaving the club’s Premier League status hanging by a thread.
The Black Cats are four points adrift of safety with eight games remaining, but with Tottenham, Everton, Manchester City and Chelsea lying in wait in the next three weeks, the situation could have worsened considerably by the time the final four matches begin with the visit of relegation rivals Cardiff City.
Even Gustavo Poyet was forced to admit that Sunderland’s survival prospects had been severely dented by Monday’s failure to beat West Ham, but Brown is adamant that all is not lost.
The experienced centre-half points to the quality of the Black Cats’ last two home performances as proof of the talent within the squad, and claims his team-mates will travel to White Hart Lane on Monday confident of turning things around.
“We’ve got to stick with it, that’s all we can do,” said Brown. “You can’t give up. We’ve just got to keep going and battling on. If anything, we have to give even more.
“There are some tough games coming up, and on paper, it suggests they’ll (Sunderland’s opponents) be the favourites. But we’ve got to keep going with the same sort of attitude we’ve had.
“We’ve played well, but we’ve not won so it doesn’t matter. As long as we can keep going and give everything we’ve got though, at least we can say we’ve done that.
“The last couple of games at home, we’ve actually played okay, we’ve just not put the ball in the back of the net. At the moment we need points, and we’re not doing that. We’re playing good football, but it doesn’t count if you’re not getting the points.”
Sunderland’s lack of success in front of goal has clearly been a major factor in their malaise, with Adam Johnson’s second-half strike against the Hammers making it just two goals in the club’s last five league games.
However, things have been no better at the other end of the field either, with the Black Cats shipping at least two goals in six of their last seven matches in all competitions.
Only three sides have conceded more home goals than Sunderland this season – Aston Villa, Cardiff and Fulham – and despite boasting extensive experience in the shape of Brown, John O’Shea, Phil Bardsley and Marcos Alonso, the Wearsiders have struggled to keep clean sheets.
“It’s our (defence’s) job to stop the goals, and we can obviously do more on that side of it,” said Brown. “Both goals we conceded were disappointing. We had a pre-match strategy (of how to deal with West Ham striker Andy Carroll’s aerial threat), but both the goals happened from it.”
Sunderland’s last two defeats have witnessed a switch to a five-man defence, with Santiago Vergini coming into the backline as an extra centre-half, enabling Bardsley and Alonso to push further forward as wing-backs.
Former Manchester United defender Gary Neville was extremely critical of the switch during his punditry appearance on Sky Sports on Monday, claiming it was exceptionally difficult for full-backs in particular to deal with the changes involved in the move to a five-man defence.
However, Brown claims it would be wrong to cite the new formation as an excuse for Sunderland’s failure to pick up any points against Liverpool and West Ham.
“Except for the two set pieces where the goals came from, I thought we managed pretty well,” he said. “I don’t think there were many shots on target from West Ham, and if anything I thought we created more.
“We had a couple of training sessions practising it before we went to Anfield, and we all sort of knew what we were doing.
“It can get better with time, but I thought it worked pretty well, especially when we played Liverpool. Strategy wise, we did very well against a team that are on fire at the moment.”
This week’s defeat means Sunderland have now played 19 successive Monday-night games without recording a victory, a run that stretches back 12 years.
With that in mind, the fact the trip to Tottenham has also been switched to a Monday does not augur well, but while the Black Cats could potentially be seven points adrift of safety by the time they travel to White Hart Lane, Brown does not believe that playing after the rest of the clubs in the bottom half of the table creates extra pressure.
“I don’t think it’s a pressure,” he said. “We just need to keep going. The way we played, I wouldn’t say we were under a lot of pressure – maybe in the last third, where we could probably do better.
“Other than that, we did okay, but staying in this league is all about winning games and getting points and that’s what we’ve got to do.”