WHEN Jeff Whitley cut inside his man and unleashed a venomous left-footed drive from 20 yards in last Friday's victory at Burnley it looked as if Sunderland's combative midfielder was finally going to break his barren spell.

Unfortunately for Whitley, Clarets' goalkeeper Brian Jensen ensured he has to wait a bit longer for a goal when he twisted every sinew to turn the shot around the post for a corner.

The Sunderland midfielder has now gone 34 games for the club without scoring.

But his role in Mick McCarthy's side is more of a midfield destroyer than that of a maker and taker of goals and he isn't expected to get as many as the likes of Dean Whitehead, Liam Lawrence or Julio Arca.

Whitley admitted he would still like to weigh in with a couple and is confident of doing so before the season closes.

He has netted one goal this season, but that came in a World Cup qualifier for Northern Ireland against Wales.

He said: "I came in after the game last week and said 'it's just not happening for me is it?'

"But there's still a good few games left and I think the goal I do score will be important."

The last time Whitley netted was at the Stadium of Light against this weekend's opponents Crewe.

He denied he has an elaborate celebration stored in his locker for when he does hit the net, but then, who would begrudge him if he did?

"I'll probably just run off the pitch and straight down the tunnel," quipped the 26-year-old. "I'm just delighted when one of the lads scores, but it is a great feeling when you score."

Whitley is buzzing ahead of the trip to Crewe at the weekend and attributed his good mood to the 'fantastic' spirit the team enjoys.

"It was obviously hard when I first came here but I've settled in really well," admitted Whitley.

"I think this season the lads the gaffer has brought in have settled really well too. I think it helped that we went away pre-season.

"They got to know us and we got to know them and it has all fired from there really.

"There are all different characters in the dressing room and everyone is getting on. The banter is non-stop and it carries on to the training pitch, which is fantastic."

There were rumours before Christmas that Whitley was responsible for taking a pair of scissors to Sean Thornton's suit after Sunderland's 2-1 home victory over Burnley.

He categorically denied the charge but did admit that some of Thornton's clobber should be shredded after questioning his fashion sense. "I sometimes think he gets dressed in the dark," cracked Whitley.

Before moving to Sunderland the season before last Whitley had spent his whole career at Manchester City - with the exception of two loan spells at Notts County.

Having spent most of his life growing up in Manchester, he admitted to being devastated when manager Kevin Keegan told him he was no longer part of his plans.

"Things weren't happening for me no matter how hard I was working," said Whitley.

"So we agreed that it would be best if I moved on and tried to get first-team football.

"It was tough when he said I was no longer part of his plans because I had been there from being ten.

"I knew everybody in the club and I mean everybody, from the top to the tea lady, so when I went in to say my goodbyes it was hard. But that is life and if it's not happening you have to move on.

"I've not looked back. I had some great days there but I'm now concentrating on getting this team back in the Premier League.

"Mick McCarthy gave me my chance and it has been uphill from then on."

Whitley has experienced the thrill of promotion twice before and, if the old wives' tale about things coming in threes is true, the former City player will have a smile as wide as the River Wear come the end of the season.

He said: "I was talking to Sean (Thornton) about it.

"I've been promoted twice now and you just can't explain the feeling.

"You can't beat it. You work your socks off all season and to get promoted, I just can't describe how good it is."

Meanwhile, McCarthy denied he was interested in Cardiff duo Tony Vidmar and Danny Gabbidon.

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