KELVIN DAVIS, back between the posts for Sunderland, has described how emerging from the most difficult time of his career has made him stronger and even more determined to help Sunderland climb out of an ever-increasing rut.

The Black Cats' goalkeeper has suffered an unfortunate start to life on Wearside, following his summer arrival from Ipswich, but has returned to the first team picture with renewed self-belief.

It was after the calamitous 4-1 home defeat to Portsmouth at the end of October when Davis - approached on the field by an angry fan and booed when he touched the ball - suffered the humiliation of being axed from the starting line-up for the next game and replaced by highly-rated England youth goalkeeper Ben Alwnick.

But, after sitting out five matches which all ended in defeat, the 29-year-old was recalled at Charlton on Saturday.

Yet another reversal, Sunderland's 14th from 17 games, was forthcoming but Davis feels there were encouraging signs at The Valley as Sunderland looked to avoid further embarrassment on their first campaign back in the Premiership.

"Even when you are not in the team you want them to do well. You are still part of things on a daily basis," said Davis, regarded as one of the finest goalkeepers outside the top-flight for many years during his days with Ipswich and Wimbledon.

"You get difficult periods in your career and that was one of my most difficult to date. I thought the best way to handle it was to get my head down and work hard. I have to stay positive, like the rest do, that we can do well this season.

"I did benefit from being taken out, even though it was not ideal. The way I try to be is to turn everything into a positive. I view being left out of the side as a chance for me to see where I was going wrong and where the team was going wrong.

"If I can influence that now I have my chance again then that has to be my aim. On Saturday the performance was there and we still have things to offer.

"Whoever is in goal wants to keep that number one spot. I won't be the first to be dropped and I won't be the last."

Having had their date with Liverpool brought forward, because of the World Club Championships, Sunderland have a free weekend but there is no talk of taking more time out to do Christmas shopping.

Even though Sunderland - linked with a January move for Celtic's Stephen Pearson - do not have a fixture on Saturday they embark on the busy festive schedule knowing the four games in eight days will either start an incredible survival bid or act only to extend the gap between themselves and safety.

Bolton visit the Stadium of Light on December 26 and Davis, who has kept one clean sheet since his £1.25m arrival, said: "The break gives us the opportunity to work on a few things so it is a help, but we are also desperate for the next game to come around as quickly as possible.

"We will be working hard and hopefully we can stay positive. We are looking to win every game. Personally I won't be looking past Boxing Day. That's the one we need three points from then we can look beyond that."

Davis was speaking at the University Hospital of Durham yesterday as he, along with four more of his team-mates, distributed Christmas gifts to children on the Treetops Ward.

Davis said: "The idea of showing your face for an hour out of the year is a small price to pay. To put smiles on the kids' faces and on the parents' is well worthwhile. Some of these kids will spend Christmas in hospital and it's nice if we can cheer them up."

Sunderland have been forced to abandon plans to offer £1 tickets to concessions for the FA Cup tie with non-league Northwich Victoria.

Northwich have complained over the club's pricing policy as they are aiming for a bumper pay day in a fixture both clubs share gate receipts.

As that is the case both have to agree to reduced ticket prices and that is something the Conference North side are not happy to do.

The FA Challenge Cup committee have now set ticket prices at £10 for adults and £5 concessions.

Yet Northwich owner and chairman Mike Connett said: "I've said I would accept £20 for adults with concessions. However, the FA have already ruled that prices should be £10 and £5. I think it is a disgraceful way to treat non-League football.

"The way the FA and Sunderland have acted is a total embarrassment. I agree that the magic of the competition has a lot to do with prestige and giant-killing, but we have never played at a top-flight side in the Cup and clubs like us also need to make the most of pay days like this.

"I believe they have cost us £200,000 by going so far below normal prices. I feel Northwich have not been shown due respect in the decision."

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