WITH Sunderland one of the local authority areas affected by the Government’s new North-East local lockdown measures, Phil Parkinson says his players will be well aware of their responsibility for helping lift the public mood when they travel to Oxford United this afternoon.

Like the rest of the North-East, it has been a difficult week for those living on Wearside, with soaring coronavirus infection rates resulting in the Government introducing a series of stringent new measures that came into force yesterday morning.

Ordinarily, more than 1,000 travelling supporters would be heading to the Kassam Stadium to watch Sunderland take on one of their likely promotion rivals today, but while the seats in the visitors’ section will instead be empty, Parkinson insists the club’s fans will be present in spirit.

Footballers are often accused of ‘living inside a bubble’, at the moment, because of strict infection control procedures at the Academy of Light, Parkinson’s squad effectively are. But that does not mean they are oblivious to what is happening in the wider world or ignorant of their role in helping to raise spirits, if only for a couple of hours on a matchday.

“We’ve got a responsibility to give everyone in the area a lift, and we’re determined to do that down at Oxford,” said the Sunderland boss. “These are tough times for everybody.

“Our thoughts go out to everybody who has got the virus, and just hope everybody else stays safe and does everything they can to help themselves and their friends and family. But yes, we have got a responsibility to try to lift everybody at the weekend, and we’re determined to try to do that.”

In the last few days, concerns have been expressed about the lack of testing being carried out by clubs in the EFL.

Unlike in the Premier League, where players and club staff are routinely tested on at least a weekly basis, the EFL have removed the mandatory protocol of weekly testing because of issues over cost, with each individual test costing clubs around £150.

EFL clubs now only have to tested someone when they are displaying coronavirus symptoms, and Parkinson admits his Sunderland squad have not been tested since the season began.

He is confident they are safe however, with the club’s medical staff having imposed strict rules that are being followed at the training ground and Stadium of Light.

“We got tested a couple of weeks ago, and that was the last test that was scheduled for everybody,” said Parkinson. “Obviously, if anyone has any of the symptoms, then straightaway they’d be tested. But as a group, the EFL guidelines were that we had to have that test a couple of weeks ago, and then we’ve not got any more planned.

“We’ve got the temperature check every morning when we come in, and we’re doing everything we can in and around the training ground to keep it as a bubble. Nobody from the outside is coming in. We’re making sure the players are socially distancing when they’re sat in the dressing room with their masks on, and when we have team meetings and things like that. Our doctor has gone through everything we need to do, and we’re trying to follow it because it’s obviously very important.”