STARING out on to the White Hart Lane pitch on Monday night, Gustavo Poyet had the look of a man who cared. With his eyes reflecting floodlights, the pictures hinted he was close to tears after watching Sunderland cave in during a second half collapse at Tottenham.
Everton, with increasing hopes of clinching the fourth and final Champions League spot, are next up, this time at the Stadium of Light, where Sunderland have struggled against West Ham, Crystal Palace and Hull City in their most recent three league matches.
Poyet, who suggested after the heavy defeat at Tottenham that his team are now in need of a miracle to stay up, has been doing all he can this week to try to engineer some belief from somewhere to get Sunderland ticking again.
After all it was only in December/January when they looked to have turned things around.
Yet as the goals kept flowing at Spurs, Sunderland’s players looked defeated, deflated and beaten. How can things change with just seven matches remaining and a seven-point gap to make up to safety?
“I trust them to the end,” said Poyet. “I keep saying to the fans, trust us to the end. Until the last game, the last goal, then we will talk. Then we will be open, we can talk about everything.
“There’s no point in analysing now, you can’t change anything. I could say something today and I could be wrong. I don’t want to be wrong until the end of the season.
“We are living in a world that is so different now, we have to manage the best we can. I am not trying to change society, or the players at just this football club. I trust these players and they care.”
As Poyet sat in the media suite at the Academy of Light yesterday afternoon he clearly resembled a man who cared. He may never have played for Sunderland, but he could never be accused of not taking the role seriously since succeeding a split dressing room - and club – following Paolo Di Canio’s six month reign. He will always be up front, he says.
“That’s the way I have been all of my life,” said Poyet. “I become supportive for whichever club I am at. As soon as I sign a contract for a club, that’s my club, I’d die for that club. That attitude has helped me to create a relationship with the club and its fans.
“I want to be in the job here because I am doing well. If I am not doing well then I won’t be in a job. I am getting paid to do well, not being paid to tell people what they want to hear. That’s me.”
Such honesty was used against him earlier in the week when he claimed it would take a miracle to keep Sunderland up with just 21 points to play for and games with Everton, Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea included on the run-in schedule.
Poyet said: “A miracle is a miracle. If it was impossible, I would say impossible. But I am saying miracle. I am telling the truth. If you want me to lie, I cannot do that."
He added: "I thought we needed four wins. Now maybe three wins and a draw. I don't know. Maybe less. I always thought 40 points and now people say 36. It could be less because no one was winning and now a few of them are. Four wins is difficult because of the games we have got but at the same time, it's there. We can win four games.”
The four home games during the run-in, starting today against Everton and followed further down the line by Cardiff, West Brom and Swansea’s visits, are likely to decisive.
What Poyet has learned during his six months in charge, though, is that there is no hiding place.
He said: “There is a different exposure, which is natural. Everything is bigger here. When we played for relegation at Brighton, half the country didn’t know we were playing for relegation. 90 per cent of the world didn’t know where Brighton was.
“People were calling me from Uruguay and Spain asking ‘how you doing at Bristol?’ That’s true, I’m not lying. It’s totally different here, for good or bad.
“On those terms, there are now people indirectly involved that were not getting involved before. Somebody who I played with who is now in Russia or Uruguay didn’t even know the results when I was at Brighton. Now they have an opinion.
“That’s the biggest difference. I have been trying not to lose the ... I’m not saying the plot … but nearly the plot, you know. It’s a way of explaining. You need to ensure you maintain the emotions. It’s not easy.”
Given the success Roberto Martinez has had in his first season at Goodison Park, Poyet knows how difficult Sunderland’s task will be today even after winning on Merseyside on Boxing Day.
The Sunderland boss said: "I like Roberto for many, many things. First because when he leaves a club, the person who comes in after him is in an incredible place. Privileged. Because he leaves things in a certain way that you come in and if you believe in that kind of football and that way of playing, it is easy.
“In some ways, I think we have similarities and I am not talking about the way we play because it is a different way, though we both like to look after the ball.
“But the way he plans things and wants to leave things behind for when he is not there for people to take advantage, is great. It is not as if he just cares about himself now. I love that and I think that is great for the football club. That’s what I am aiming to do here."