LESS THAN a fortnight into the job, and Sunderland were already proving to be a pain in the neck for Gus Poyet.
As he stood on the Liberty Stadium touchline watching his team embarrassed by a rampant Swansea City side, Poyet instinctively kept turning his head to the scoreboard to check when Sunderland would be put out of their mercy.
“I probably looked at the clock 20 times between the 84th and 90th minute,” says Poyet now, reflecting on his first game as Sunderland head coach.
It was a brutal introduction to life as Black Cats boss 16 months ago.
Poyet had had 12 days to prepare his troops for the trip to south Wales after succeeding Paolo Di Canio at the helm.
For the first half, that work on the training ground looked to have produced an improvement, with Sunderland solid defensively and even spurning a couple of chances themselves.
But after Phil Bardsley’s own goal just before the hour mark, Sunderland conceded a further three times in the next 23 minutes, leaving Poyet in no doubt why the Black Cats were propping up the Premier League table.
“(At half-time) I was thinking that in certain ways they were good, because after 12 days there was something there,” said Poyet, ahead of tomorrow’s return to Swansea.
“But it was that mental problem we had at that time.
“We conceded one and collapsed.
“It was a long second half. I can tell you that.
“You learn from that and grow up as a group as well.
“I think the players that are still here probably remember what I said in the dressing room after the game.
“It helped us to get better for the future. Not being able to concede a goal as a group and keep it together was challenging.
“You don’t expect that.
“We knew then that we had to change something dramatically on the mental side of it.”
Sunderland are in a much more resolute frame of mind now, particularly after consecutive victories over Burnley and Fulham.
And Poyet admits that the absence of Wilfried Bony and Gylfi Sigurdsson in Swansea’s ranks tomorrow improves Sunderland’s chances of making it three wins on the spin.
Bony – the scorer of the third Swansea goal in last season’s corresponding fixture – joined Manchester City in a £28million move last month, while ex-Spurs midfielder Sigurdsson is suspended tomorrow.
“Those are two assets who score goals,” added Poyet.
“I know that Jonjo Shelvey can do that, but it’s from a different place and a different situation.
“He’s not a number nine.
“Without Bony and Sigurdsson, we need to be honest, it should be easier.
“That doesn’t mean easy.
“I watched Chelsea the other day and they were quite good against Liverpool, but without (Cesc) Fabregas and (Diego) Costa, it’s not the same.
“This is no different.
“Let’s go there with confidence high. It doesn’t matter who plays, let’s perform and get a result.”