LIAM Lawrence has rounded on the legion of critics currently belittling Sunderland's attempts to stay in the Premiership and told the likes of Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson: "I'm desperate to prove you wrong".

While the Black Cats were the darlings of the national media as they won the Championship title on a shoestring last season, their attempts to survive in the top-flight have earned nothing but scorn.

Mick McCarthy has been criticised for both his summer spending and his team selection, while Sunderland's players have found both their ability and attitude being called into question.

Some of the most savage attacks have come on Match of the Day, with Hansen and Lawrenson repeatedly bemoaning the Black Cats' poor defensive record.

Those attacks have clearly rankled with Lawrence. The former Mansfield midfielder, who admits he takes criticism to heart, has been upset by some of the more vitriolic attacks on both him and his team-mates this season.

Sunderland's record means they have not been without foundation but, rather than crawling into his shell, the 24-year-old is determined to make his critics eat their words by spearheading a revival in the second half of the campaign.

"I take it on board and it really does cheese me off," said Lawrence, who has made just six Premiership starts this term.

"It gets to you when you hear the likes of (Mark) Lawrenson slating you. But it makes you even more determined to prove them wrong.

"I read the paper and it sticks in my mind. I can understand why some people stop reading the papers because, if things aren't going for you, the last thing you need is people criticising you.

"It's disappointing to read bad things about yourself, but you have to get on with it and prove those people wrong.

"That's what we're all aiming to do. Whatever anyone else says, I think we've got an honest set of boys here. We've certainly got no cowards."

Nevertheless, Sunderland go into their Boxing Day game with Bolton some 11 points adrift of safety.

Their one and only win came back in September, while the last nine games have brought nothing but defeat.

Lawrence admits that some performances have not been good enough, but insists that, with a little bit of luck, there is enough quality at the Stadium of Light to bring about a reversal in fortunes.

"I definitely think we've got a good enough squad," he said. "Our luck can't be like this all season, surely.

"So far, it's been a case of us getting punished for all of our mistakes. We're getting punished a lot more than we were last year because we're up against international players and they can take advantage of the slightest little thing.

"At times, it's hard to keep everyone happy and buzzing. But that's probably one of the advantages of having a young squad. Nobody is fearing the worst."

Meanwhile, goalkeeper Mart Poom has extended his loan deal at Arsenal to the end of the season.

McCarthy had been considering recalling the Estonia international, who moved to Highbury in August, when the transfer window re-opens at the start of next month.

But Arsenal have taken up their option of extending his stay and, with his Sunderland contract expiring in the summer, he has almost certainly played his final game for the Black Cats.

McCarthy is now focusing his attention on Nir Davidovic, an Israeli goalkeeper who is training at the Academy of Light this week.

"Mart's going to stay at Arsenal for the rest of the season," confirmed the Black Cats boss. "So we're having a look around and we'll see how he (Davidovic) does.

"He's the Israeli national keeper so let's just see - we're not making any predictions.

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