IT has been a difficult week for all connected to Sunderland, but Michael Beale says it is crucial that all elements of the club remain united as they look to push towards the Premier League in the second half of the season.

The build-up to the Wear-Tyne derby had been fractious enough given the decision to rehouse Sunderland season-ticket holders to accommodate 6,000 travelling Newcastle fans in the North Stand at the Stadium of Light, but it descended into farce on Thursday when pictures emerged showing black-and-white banners being displayed in the Black Cats Bar.

The Newcastle branding was eventually removed, with Sunderland owner Kyril Louis-Dreyfus issuing a public apology, but in the eyes of many fans, the damage had already been done, wiping out much of the goodwill that had been generated following the removal of unpopular former chairman Stewart Donald.


Things didn’t improve on the pitch yesterday, with Sunderland succumbing to a meek 3-0 defeat at the hands of their bitterest rivals, but Beale insists it is important that everyone sticks together with the Black Cats still well-placed within the Championship play-off positions.

“We’ve got 20 huge games now, and the focus has to be on what happens on the football pitch,” said Beale. “Ultimately, I’m not in and around any of the other (off-field) stuff.

“I would have liked our players to have scored a goal for the fans, and stayed in the game for longer in the second half because I thought it would have been interesting, even given there was a gap in quality. If we’d stayed in the game at the start of the second half then anything could have happened, and I knew the fans would then have pushed the team onwards and upwards.

“We didn’t, but we’ve got 20 games to go in the Championship and we’re in a really good place. We’ve got as good a chance of anyone of getting into those play-off positions, but we’re going to need to be united as a football club for that to happen, for sure. We’ve got the biggest away following in the Championship, and we’ll be counting on that next week away at Ipswich.”

Beale has been criticised by some fans for not making his first substitution in yesterday’s game until the 85th minute.

The replacement of Nazariy Rusyn with Abdoullah Ba was Sunderland’s only change, with Beale explaining that his refusal to make any more alterations was a reflection of both his side’s improved showing in the second half and a lack of experience and game-changing quality on the bench.

“It was a little bit of both on the day,” he said. “At 2-0, I felt that if we went and got one then the fans would have really got behind us and pushed us on.

“Then, looking behind me, the bench only gets younger and you don’t want to destabilise the team. That’s just the decision we decided to make as a management team.”