GUSTAVO POYET has issued a thinly-veiled criticism of Sunderland’s recruitment team by claiming that he was presented with insufficient defenders when the transfer window closed in August.

Poyet pushed through the signing of free agent Anthony Reveillere this week in order to ensure he had seven defenders available to him, a quota he regards as the minimum requirement for a club competing in the Premier League.

Sunderland lost four experienced defenders this summer - Phil Bardsley, Carlos Cuellar, Valentin Roberge and Marcos Alonso – but only Billy Jones, Sebastian Coates and Patrick van Aanholt arrived to replace them, with the first two players set to be sidelined for most of the next month.

As a result, Poyet has found himself short of defensive options in recent weeks, and while he is quick to point out that last weekend’s 8-0 humiliation at Southampton had nothing to do with a lack of alternatives at the back, there is clearly a simmering resentment at this summer’s failure to recruit adequately.

“When everybody is okay, it doesn’t look bad,” said Poyet, who is demanding a strong reaction when his players return to action against Arsenal this afternoon. “Unfortunately, we have four important injuries to players who are important to the team and we are suffering, especially at the back.

“That (not having enough defensive players) was the situation (at the end of August). I’m not trying to criticise someone or the club, I just said we are short so that when things happen, it doesn’t look like I’m just making excuses for what has happened.

“I said it before, and I was just being honest. I wasn’t cajoling. I wanted seven defenders, and we started the season with six. That’s true, but now we have seven. I didn’t make the decision to have six, but that’s life.”

Towards the end of last season, clear tensions were evident between Poyet and Sunderland’s recruitment operation, which is headed by sporting director Lee Congerton.

Poyet, who operates with the title of ‘head coach’ rather than ‘manager’, has limited involvement in transfer matters, and there have been times during his reign when he has hinted at his unhappiness at being on the periphery of transfer discussions.

In April, he spoke of “something wrong in the football club” and discussed the need for “fundamental changes” if further battles against relegation were to be avoided in the future.

That was interpreted as a plea for a major overhaul of the managerial and boardroom structure, but while minor changes were made over the summer to afford Poyet more responsibility over coaching appointments and the academy set-up, the key distinction between the training-ground responsibilities of the head coach and the executive-level duties of the sporting director remains.

This week’s comments suggest that the underlying problems that were apparent last season have not been resolved, although Poyet has been careful to qualify his observations in order to avoid the potential for direct confrontation.

“At the beginning of the season, some people said I was happy, some said I was unhappy,” he said. “That’s not possible. I said I’m okay.

“I accept it and I get on with it, which means I’m not going to tell you I’m happy or not happy. Don’t say that. I’m okay and I get on with it because that is where we are. There’s nothing to change. Now we’ve got an extra player and we will get on with it.”

Results like last weekend’s eight-goal thrashing at St Mary’s bring any lingering issues into sharper focus, and while previous results suggest the capitulation can be filed as a one-off, the defeat nevertheless underlines just how difficult it is to radically alter the fortunes of a club that has spent the majority of its Premier League existence battling in the wrong half of the table.

It is easy to forget that, as recently as mid-April, Sunderland looked certain to be spending this season in the Championship, so perhaps it is unrealistic to expect them suddenly to become a side producing consistently high levels of performance.

“It takes time to turn things around, no doubt,” said Poyet. “We need time as managers. We love to have time, but it’s also unrealistic. We can’t always be asking for more time, but do I need time to change things? Yes, I do.

“The most difficult thing to change is mentality. A player at 27 or 28 isn’t going to improve his ability, but he might have been in a certain mental situation because every season he was involved in relegation.

“It takes time to change that – and results. You need the two coming together and I just hope I’ve got the time to get that.”