On the mindset heading into the weekend...
Same as it’s been, I think. It is what it is, isn’t it? There’s six points with nine to play for, so we’re getting down to it now, for sure. I think the last game was determined as a must win, if that was, then what’s this one?
Football is funny the way things work out, we’ve both been thrown together, ourselves and Burton, it’s all on it. Our mindset has to be the same as it’s been for the last six weeks, really. Trying to go in and win the game, trying to eradicate any thoughts of fear and what we mustn’t do is have the “what if’s” type of thinking.
We’ve just got to go in and get on with the job, that’s it. Try to get the job done and try to make sure we’re still in the fight Saturday evening.
On making it hard for ourselves...
Certainly, in the last three games, we should have had six more points. Performance wise, for sure six more points. We got ourselves into the lead and never held onto it, you know. So, there is a feeling that we should be sitting there on 40 points and the pressure should be much different. But, we let it slip.
Again, I can’t really fault the guys for their attitude towards it. It’s all vital, key moments in games where we’ve not been able to see it through. It’s been like that all season to be fair. But, there’s still a glimmer of hope and whilst there is a glimmer of hope, we’ve got to go for it, it’s as simple as that. We can’t go into thinking that the future is written because it’s almost certainly not.
Like I say, we’ve just got to make sure that at the end of it, even if its still an outside chance, the important word being ‘chance’. Hopefully there will still be one at the end of this game.
Do you feel you’re getting some fight from the players?
Yeah. Pressure does different things to different people. If you look at us and what we’ve been doing all season is, or what we’ve not been doing, is backing up results with back-to-back wins. We’ve been very nervous, but we’ve certainly been better away from home than at home.
There’s a patter that’s emerged in the last five games where we’ve been a real good outfit. If you look at the stats, we’ve doubled shots at goal than the opposition, we’ve created a lot, we’ve been playing a lot of football in the oppositions half. Is it too late? We don’t know, time will tell. But, we’ve got to continue in that vain.
Like I say, it’s tough to ask people for a lot more if they don’t have anymore to give. I can swallow that, personally I can say; “that’s OK”. We’ve given everything we’ve got and at the end of the day, it hasn’t been enough. But, what we have, we’ve give. I can accept that, but what I can’t accept is if we’re holding something back and we’re missing the challenge, that’s the thing I won’t accept.
On the nerves and potential atmosphere...
I think the way this season has gone, it was always going to come down to this. It was destined to come down to another team that’s fighting for their lives, whoever loses is relegated and it’s at the Stadium of Light.
The way it’s gone for Sunderland this year, for all of us, it was going to come down to this. We’ve been better away from home than we’ve been at home. We’ve won two games at home all season and our form has been very, very indifferent and a lot of times, poor at the Stadium of Light. But, the last two games, the form has been good enough to get results and we’ve got to emulate that. That’s how we have to look at it.
But, I’m not surprised its come down to this, it’s destiny, if you like. The good thing about it is though, it’s all on it. When you’re faced with that and you come out having met that challenge and if you get a result, it’s a great feeling. Of course, it’s black and it’s white, isn’t it? There’s two sides to everything and the reverse of that is, if we don’t perform and we lose, we know, we know what’s going to happen then.
But, if we perform and we get it, we go and get something, it’s a great feeling and that’s what we have to try and do.
On taking relegation personal...
Absolutely, yeah. It’s on my watch, I knew that when I walked through the door. I know people thought I was hasty maybe in coming, in the position where the club was. I never came to manage in the Championship, I came to manage Sunderland, whether they were bottom or top. I wanted to manage Sunderland Football Club, so that hasn’t changed.
It’s been an incredibly tough five months and come what may with these next results. I came to manage Sunderland and that’s what I’m doing. I’ve been relegated as a player and it’s the worst feeling, worst feeling. It never leaves you that feeling. We’re not there yet and fingers crossed, hopefully it doesn’t happen and there’s still a chance for us. But, of course, it’s on my watch and it will be something that will stay with me, for sure.
On communication with the chairman...
I know you have to ask the question, I understand that. But, it’s the same answer, there has been no dialogue from the chairman. We are planning on different levels, in terms of who we need to bring to the club. So, we’re planning on different levels.
Just in case we’re told its A, so we’re at least a little bit ahead of the game or it’s B, ok we have that in planning or it’s C, we’ve got that going on also. It’s not ideal, but that’s where we are.
I think the hardest part for us is that we’re working at the moment on certain things where we know we’re wasting our time. But, just in case, because if there’s a chance it goes that way and we haven’t done any due diligence or planning then we’re behind schedule. We’ve got to make sure we’re trying as best as we can to see down the line; Is that where we’re playing from? Is that the league we’re playing in and that’s the budget? So, this is what we need to go for or it’s this…
Just in case because if we wait another month or another three weeks, two weeks, whenever it is, it could be longer than that. The clubs sold, it’s not sold, we’re in this league or that league, we’re behind everybody else. It’s a lot of work at the minute because normally you’ve got a plan and you’ve got an idea, but we haven’t. We’re shooting off on different directions in case, that’s what we’re working off. But, nevertheless, it’s work that needs to be done.
On building a team around Paddy McNair...
I think it’s not like, it’s a must. It’s a need, it’s not just a want, it’s a need to build around a Paddy McNair or players like that. So, it’s no coincidence you see the type of team we become with him in midfield and he’s got a great understanding with Honeyman and Cattermole. They seem to balance off each other as a trio in the centre of midfield.
His age, his physicality, his mentality, his personality, it ticks all the boxes for us, for this club. It’s imperative that he’s here and we’re building a team to fit around him.
On the continuing poor home form...
I think at home, we walk into a big stadium, it’s half full and the feeling there, through no fault of their own, it’s through experience, is that the worst is going to happen. So, that’s what we’re up against, but we’ve been in the middle of that.
We’re very much in charge of the orchestra, if you like. We haven’t been good enough for some time, but I can’t say that the last two home games, we’ve had a really good crack at it and they’ve been two good games. It’s the reason why it is what it is and how it is. That’s not to say though that on Saturday, it could be a great atmosphere, whoever’s in the stadium, it could be a great atmosphere.
I think it will be an open game, I think both games are going to go for it and I think it will be an entertaining game for the neutral. It will be a bit nervy for us and Burton, I would imagine. I think there’s going to be goals and it’s who comes out on top.
Can the players manage to win the next three games?
We’ve got to look at this one and say it’s the last game of the season and hook or by crook, we’ve got to get this result, there’s nothing after it. Let’s see where we are after that and if we have to go to Fulham, who could be playing for something very different. By the time we get to Wolves, Wolves will have won the Championship I would imagine, by then.
The best team in the league and probably one of the best teams in the history of Championship, Wolves. But, we’ve already gone there and got a draw, got a draw with ten men. We’ve beaten Fulham here and that’s the Championship, it’s upside down some weeks and you can’t make head or tail of it.
But, to get to those positions we’ve got to take care of Burton on Saturday, we’ve got to take care of our business and keep doing what we’ve been doing. That will give us the best chance.
On Nigel Clough...
Yeah, well his dad was a Sunderland legend, a football legend, obviously, Brian. But, he was one of the best strikers that the club has ever had. I know Nige very well and normally the manage of the year goes to one of the boys who gets promoted, certainly in the Championship.
But, the job he’s done at Burton is incredible, he’s done a fantastic job. I know his budget and to keep them in the Championship last year, fantastic job. He’s doing a very, very good job there. I’ve known him a long time, we used to play against each other a lot or rather, I used to chase him round the pitch, I should say. But, he’s a good manager, Nigel.
On having your own plans in place for moving forward...
I can see exactly where we are and where we can go and at the minute we can’t see that. So, yeah, that’s absolutely right. I’ve said for some time since I’ve been here, it will turn, sooner or later it will turn. Big clubs have been in our position, got it turned around, got it going again and it will turn.
I’d be envious and jealous if someone came in after me and all of a sudden, things started to be put in place and the club started moving forward, I would. I’m not really a jealous type of person to be honest with you, but I’ve seen all of the difficult stuff since I’ve been here, we’re going through it now. But, I’d just like to be here when it does turn and I’d like to have the chance to do that.
At the minute, it’s impossible to gauge how it’s going to go. Who’s going to be sat here? Who’s going to be sat downstairs in the dressing room? We don’t know because the uncertainty there is substantial.
Can players treat Saturday’s game as a normal one?
I think the message to them, our players and the Burton players is that relegation hasn’t come from the performance on Saturday, it’s come from what will be the 44th game. That’s where it’s come from, all of those games. Whoever gets it is because you haven’t been enough across 44 games.
So, we’ve got to go into Saturday thinking 43 previous games has brought us to this point. Nevertheless, there’s still a glimmer of hope and a chance that we can keep it going, keep fighting. We’ve got to do what we’ve been doing, play with the same intensity and the same freedom to give ourselves a chance to beat Burton.
They’ll come to us thinking they’ve got nothing to lose, Sunderland’s a big club, yes, they can get relegated, of course. But, all due respect to Burton, most of the spotlight will be on us and we’ve got to overcome that and get on with the job like we’ve been doing for four or five games. Just getting on with the job and we’ve had chances in games, you look at us in the last five games and we could be sitting here with all the points. We’ve performed well enough, we’ve just not seen it through, unfortunately.
If you’re looking at Saturday in isolation and think; “If we lose to Burton then this is what’s going to happen.” That will be our 44th game, so that’s the reason why we are where we are.