GUSTAVO POYET has been reassured that he still has the backing of Sunderland owner Ellis Short to succeed at the Stadium of Light ahead of another crucial weekend on Wearside.
It was at this stage of the season 12 months ago when Short took the decision to replace Martin O’Neill with Paolo Di Canio and the gamble paid off during the final seven matches of the season.
Di Canio, whose reign ended in disgrace inside six months after a worrying start to this season, did secure the two wins in the final seven matches to keep the Black Cats in the Premier League.
Sunderland, set to face Everton at home today, were six points better off last April than the 25 they have accumulated this time around, with Poyet suggesting four wins from the run-in could be required to preserve top-flight status once more.
The Uruguayan, who has another year to run on his contract, had the unenviable task in October of trying to lift a squad left scarred and demoralised by Di Canio’s controversial approach.
Despite hints that he would succeed in keeping Sunderland up earlier this year, the reality now is that a run of seven defeats from a winless eight matches in all competitions has left them rooted to the foot of the table with less than a month remaining of the season.
Poyet admits to making mistakes along the way, but he is determined to deliver in the role after chatting with Short, the Sunderland chairman who sacked O’Neill and Di Canio, after Monday’s defeat to Tottenham.
“The message from the owner is support. Total support,” said Poyet. “I spoke to him this week and he totally supports. He made a decision and he is standing by it until the end.
“The conversation was very natural, I don’t need to tell you what we said to each other, but it was natural and straight-forward. We spoke about the situation and why we decided to stick together until the end.”
Poyet has actually won six of his Premier League games since taking over from Di Canio, although he has not had much room for manoeuvre in terms of personnel because of the huge changes that took place under Di Canio’s watch.
“It’s difficult to say whether another manager could have done better in the same situation,” said Poyet. “What I can tell you is that, if you ask the fans, would they like to be in this situation now, having beaten Newcastle twice and been 1-0 up in the final against Manchester City, I wonder how many would say they would take it. Not me, I don’t take that. I came here with one thing in my mind: to get safe. I won’t stop until we are safe.”
Poyet has tried different things in recent weeks in the hope of sparking a revival; like swapping to a three man central defence and fielding two strikers. The move has resulted in two defeats to Liverpool and Tottenham, despite hints of improvement particularly at Anfield.
His critics have suggested that his January signings have not delivered. Marcos Alonso, who has impressed on loan from Fiorentina, Ignacio Scocco, Santiago Vergini and £3.5m buy Liam Bridcutt have not shone like he would have liked.
Poyet, desperate for a victory against Everton, said: “Nacho’s situation is clear. He is still in the time of adapting to the physicality of the English game. He is a player coming here with plenty of credentials and quality.
“He has taken a little longer than I would like to adapt, but there is no doubt about his quality. A player can take six months, a year, but there are always players who take longer to adapt. I still believe he can be a big part in the future here.
“Santiago Vergini is better than what people think. He has been in a team which is defending more than we should be. We have never had a partnership for him. He did OK with John O’Shea for a time, then he was in a three, then he played with Wes Brown.
“While I think for Liam it has been easy. It has been simple for him to come in. He will do exactly what I need at different times in the game. “We are all responsible here. There is greater responsibility on the players who have been here longer than to base it on the new players alone. The good thing is that they are all suffering, not enjoying the situation we are in.”