On frustration from Tuesday...
Tuesday night was a tough one to take, you know? If you’re looking at the balance of the game then they could have won it, we could have won it. But, to be that close to three points and obviously I don’t need to tell you how important those three points are to us, it would have changed a hell of a lot.
To give it up like we did, which was disappointing. The nature in which we gave it up was really disappointing. Again, whatever the boys have got, they give it. It was just a little bit, like I said on the night, a little bit of savvy, a little bit of naivety cost us a big three points.
That was such a shame because it’s four games running where we could be sitting here with 12 points really, on the back of performances. But, to give the points up like we did was disappointing.
Has the squad been good enough to stay up?
I think we are where we are because we’ve been lacking in a lot of areas, it’s not a coincidence as I’ve said before. If we were 10 games in, we could say; “Do you know what, it’s going to pick up, we’re going to get better.”
But, we’ve been down here for a long time, so we’ve been lacking in many areas. Consistency, in terms of even fielding the same 11, the same formation, lack of form, we’ve mentioned naivety and of course our home form, for some time, has not been good enough. There are a lot of elements in the equation when you look at it across the board and you say; “Ok, that wasn’t going enough, that wasn’t good enough, that hasn’t been good enough.”
We are where we are, unfortunately. We’ve still shown that with football being football, surprises happen all the time. All be it, we’ve been there a while, it doesn’t mean that in these games remaining we can’t pull something out the bag and we can’t take it right to the wire. That’s our job now, Saturday 5 o’clock, we’re still fighting because we’re still in for a fight and the teams around us are still looking at us not thinking; “Sunderland have given it up.” We certainly haven’t done that in the last three games and we must maintain that mentality.
Do you sense some fight from within the group?
I do, yeah. I’ve seen it in the last three or four games, for sure. There’s been one or two relegation battles here over the last two or three years. So, one or two of the boys know what it feels like, it’s brand new to some of the guys. We’ve got a lot of young players involved, it’s all new to them, we’ve got young loan players and it’s all new to them.
I think if you look at the make-up of our group, the group left that we’ve got fighting for us, it’s a mixture of young players, older players, loan players and that probably tells you a lot about the position of the club as a whole. But, nevertheless, we’ve come this far and we said the other night that had we won, everybody lost anyway but it changes everything.
It could happen again on Saturday, we’re playing Reading. I don’t think Reading are going to get sucked into it, but we’ve gone to Derby and won. Like I said, the last four games, Leeds, Sheff Wednesday, Norwich, we could be sitting here with 12 points, so there’s nothing for us to be afraid of.
It will be a tough game; the other games have been tough. But, we’ve got to go there and roll our sleeves up, empty. Let’s have a crack at it, let’s go for three points, let’s try and win the game hook or by crook and let’s see where we are at the end of that.
On the closure of cash turnstiles...
I totally see the security side of it, so I get why. Obviously, liaison with the police, you have to listen to them. So, I totally understand why they would do that because safety has to come first. Don’t get me wrong, I want to see the Stadium with as many people in there, as many Sunderland people in there as we can fit.
But, I get why, with the police and why the club have come to that decision because obviously, safety comes first.
On the prevention of trouble from Tuesday night...
We don’t want to see that. Football is football and you’re always going to get one team laughing at another, especially if it’s two derby teams. All of the Newcastle fans I bump into, they’re absolutely fabulous with me and they don’t want to see us suffer, they want the derby games back. All of the Newcastle fans I speak to, proper Newcastle fans, they’ve been just proper people.
In any walk of life, in any industry, there’s a percentage, small percentage, unsavoury. But, that’s in any industry and all the Newcastle fans I ever talk to are absolutely fantastic. They don’t want to see us where we are, they want to see us back up there because they want to play against us, they want the derby games.
On the wage structure for next season...
Some of the boys that signed those contracts in the Premier League, in fairness to the club and in fairness to anyone that was here, I don’t think anybody would envisage us being here, you know, three years down the line or four, however long it’s been.
Hence why on some of the contracts, there’s nothing written in there because I don’t think anybody really saw that happening. Obviously, some of the guys who signed later on, then there are some stipulations for contract change.
I voiced my opinions on how some things have been done here, but I think, to be honest, some of the boys that have been here longer when they were finishing in mid-table In the Premier League, I don’t think you could say in two years’ time that Sunderland would be on the verge of going to League One.
It’s unfortunate the way its happened. It will depend on who’s here in terms of who the owner is, whether it’s Ellis or someone new. I don’t know, if it’s someone new, what plans they’re going to have. I don’t even know what plans Ellis will have for us, but I just think it’s one of those things where nobody really saw that happening.
On Gareth Bale’s future...
He’s been there five years, has he? Five years, probably? His first year, when I used to do the Welsh press conferences, I was always asked; “The Spanish press are not very happy with him, has he got a future there?”
I think he’s won 3 Champions Leagues there and he’s done a good stint there. The last time I spoke to him he was very happy in Madrid; his family are settled there. But, he is who he is, Real Madrid are who they are, there’s comings and goings all of the time.
If you work so hard to get to a stage in your career where you’re seen as one of the better players and you’re playing for one of the biggest clubs, that’s not somewhere where you’d want to leave, I would imagine. Where does he go from there that’s bigger? There’s nowhere bigger.
So, if he does leave Madrid, where’s he going to go? It’s going to have to be another giant club, is it back here? Probably, maybe, if he does move, if it’s on the cards. The last conversations I had with him, he was happy there. He likes the life in Madrid, loved the club, but I don’t know, I don’t know to be honest with you.
On being aware of scorelines during Tuesday’s game...
No, I didn’t know, I didn’t know what was happening elsewhere. We we’re just concentrating on ourselves, we didn’t even know at half-time or anything like that, it was just all about us really. If it was the last game and it was all on that last game, then probably it would be different.
Totally unaware of what was going on elsewhere, it was just all about ourselves. During the game, the way the game was going, it was open, there were chances at either end. Then, we lose our captain through injury, we lose our left back through injury, so we have to change half the defence, which is not ideal.
It was one of those games where you think, if you get that first goal, it’s just one of those games where you think that will be it, you’ll get the three points. When we didn’t and in the last two minutes on the ninety, to concede. We defended it poorly, as a team we defended it poorly and that was really disappointing because you get to that stage where it’s so important, those points. You’ve got them and you can’t give up a goal like that.
There’s been a trait with us and it’s unfortunate because the last four games the boys have been really, really good. They deserved to get more than what they’ve got, but there you go, that’s where we are. We’ve got to see on Saturday where we fair, not worry about other teams, it’s just about us taking care of our business.
That’s what we’ve been doing and we’ve just got to perform again because then we give ourselves the best chance of getting such precious and important three points for us.
Do you work on defending set pieces?
What you can’t do is re-create a game situation where there’s so much riding on it in training. We can talk through it and show diagrams and work on it. I suppose it’s like penalty shootouts, you can’t re-create that type of pressure, there’s nothing like the real thing.
That’s what I say when you bring young boys out of Under 23’s football, there’s a little bit of pressure on them because they’re trying to make a career for themselves. When you come in and play big boys football, it’s a totally different thing. You’re talking about careers, you’re talking about the future of a club, you’re on the pitch, your part of the team and you’ve got responsibilities.
You get better by experiencing that and sometimes they’re not good experiences but it makes you stronger. We didn’t deal with it like we should have the other night. But, the lads will improve long-term from having those disappointments because it adds layers to your skin. You either come through it and fight it or you crumble and go under.
I’ve said many times that I’ve not always won fights that I’ve been in, I’ve lost loads, but I still keep coming back for more. That’s how you get experience and deal with it better next time. It’s very tough to re-create that. There’s big clocks at the Stadium of Light, either end, the TV’s are there. The boys will have been looking at that because I was.
They’ll have been feeling like I was, like everybody in the stadium was as soon as the free-kick, you’re thinking; “Oh no.”, because what we’ve been is consistent in not defending free-kicks properly. So, that was an ‘Oh no’ moment and unfortunately, we succumbed to it.
Do you have to win all four remaining games?
Oh yeah, no denying that. Away to Reading, at home to Burton, away to Fulham and at home to Wolves. That’s our run in, so whatever’s going to happen. Fulham are still going for that automation spot, Wolves are looking to win it and they probably will, I think.
Four games that we need to win to give ourselves a realistic chance of the teams two places above us looking over their shoulders and having to do more work themselves. So, yeah, I’d have to agree with that.