SUNDERLAND striker Jon Stead has admitted the players "owe" the fans after the embarrassing home defeat by Portsmouth, and revealed the aftermath of the 4-1 scoreline was the lowest point of his career.

The £1.8m signing was only a substitute, coming on when the Black Cats were 2-1 down, but the crowd's fierce reaction to the performance hit home to the whole squad.

Aston Villa visit the Stadium of Light this weekend, with the goal-less Stead determined to end the disappointing start to his Sunderland career.

The Huddersfield-born forward, who first signed professional terms at his hometown team in 2002, is yet to find the target for his new club in ten games.

"We feel we owe the fans," said the 22-year-old summer signing from Blackburn. "You should have seen the dressing room after the Portsmouth game, it was horrible.

"It was probably the worst game I've ever been involved in. It was heart-wrenching and the fans don't deserve that.

"I've been brought here to score goals and that's what I intend to do. But you can't go chasing it all over the place, there is more to my game than just scoring goals.

"It's been difficult at Sunderland because we struggled at the start of the season to score and we weren't creating many chances.

"I think I would have been more worried if I had been missing open goals, but it still plays on your mind when you haven't got your first goal for a new club.

"Once the first one comes the confidence will flow.

"I've not had the rub of the green. I'm sure it will come, we're creating a lot more chances now. It's been disappointing, but you have to make sure you stay positive and continue to enjoy your football."

Stead is McCarthy's most expensive signing as Sunderland boss, and he had mixed emotions when he was handed the chance to impress his manager during the international break.

The extra hours he has been able to put in on the training ground meant he was surplus to England U-21 requirements, missing both legs of their play-off against France.

"I was disappointed not to go away with the Under -21s, but I think, personally, it was a good break for me," said Stead, who joined his team-mates in a bonding paintball session yesterday afternoon. It gave me the opportunity to concentrate on my club career and keep myself in the manager's face.

"Sunderland are the most important thing for me. I've not had the start to my career I would have liked and I'm desperate for a run of games in the first team.

"I don't need an international distraction, I want to forget about all that and just get on with trying to get into the starting line up here.

"We've got a run of vital home games coming up and I want to play my part in them."

Stead found himself on the right of a five-man midfield at Arsenal, but is expected to be back up front alongside Stephen Elliott when David O'Leary's side visit this weekend.

The striker is well aware he was bought to score the goals to keep the Black Cats in the Premiership, and admits to a few sleepless nights dreaming of his first strike for the Wearsiders.

With McCarthy expected to wheel and deal when the transfer window opens in January, Stead is one player who has no desire to continue his career away from the North-East.

"I'm only 22 and my best years are ahead of me," said Stead. "There is a lot of expectation on me because of the money the club paid for me in the summer and I don't feel as though I've repaid any of that money yet.

"When I played my first season at Huddersfield I only scored six goals in 40-odd games.

"I was playing wide on the right a lot, but I didn't score many.

"In my second season I scored two on the first day of the season and then kept on scoring. It continued when I went to Blackburn in January and I scored in my first two games.

"It's just one of those things, but It helps to get a goal early on in your career as it takes a lot of the weight off your shoulders.

"I've had a few sleepless nights about it, it plays on your mind the whole time. Every Friday night I'm thinking about what I'm going to be doing and how I'm going to score goals.

"I think I need a run of games now but I've got to stay positive. I move into my house this week and I'm settled up here. I'm not thinking about leaving, I just want to get my head down and be successful as a Sunderland player."