KEVIN PHILLIPS begged Sunderland fans last night to lay off Tore Andre Flo during the £8.2m flop's worst goal drought for more than three years.

Flo has not hit the net for nine matches - his longest barren spell since he went 12 Chelsea appearances without a goal until October 1999.

As Sunderland have moved to the brink of the Premiership abyss in recent weeks, the club's record signing has borne the brunt of terrace anger after failing to justify his large fee.

But Phillips, who went seven games before opening his account this season, wants supporters to put any ill-feeling to one side as they enter the Premiership equivalent of the last-chance saloon.

He said: "I've been through a spell like Tore is going through at the moment and we want him to score goals because we know what he's capable of.

"Fans can't single anyone out; we're all in this together, and if we all stick together we stand a better chance of staying up.

"I've said all the time that fans should get behind us all and leave their moaning or arguments until the end of the season, when our fate will be known.

"If the supporters are against us, it will make life a lot harder for us.

"Tore came to us at a time when we were struggling and he perhaps hasn't found the form that he knows he's got.

"But you can see every day in training that he's a quality player, and we only hope he can transfer that on to the pitch.

"He was one of our best players at Fulham on Saturday, and if he'd been on a good goal-scoring run he would have taken two or three chances.

"We're all supporting him and I'm sure he'll come good. Goalscorers live on goals, and that's what breeds confidence.

"When you've gone a while without scoring, it does affect you. A lot of people say that shouldn't happen, but it does.

"There's all sorts of pressure that comes along with it, but I'm sure Tore is big enough and strong enough to handle that.

"He's been at two massive clubs before Sunderland and he'll deal with it in his own way."

Jason McAteer, who only returned to the Black Cats' team three weeks ago after a five-month lay-off with a hernia problem, is doubtful for the crucial Premiership visit of his former club Bolton Wanderers on March 15 with a hamstring injury.

He said: "I just felt something go early in the game at Fulham.

"The scan has shown some damage to the hamstring but I'm hopeful of being OK for the Bolton game."

McAteer's absence would be a major blow to Sunderland, who will be without the suspended Gavin McCann for the Bolton clash and the trip to West Ham United seven days later.

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