LEE CATTERMOLE admits Sunderland were battling against fatigue as they limped over the season’s finishing line.
Sunderland ended their campaign with an eight-game winless Premier League run, with Martin O’Neill’s men failing to muster a victory since crashing out of the FA Cup to Everton on March 27.
That slump cost Sunderland any chance of finishing in the top half of the table after they had been riding high in eighth spot prior to the cup exit.
But skipper Cattermole blames tired legs for the change in Sunderland’s fortunes after O’Neill’s appointment initially saw the Wearsiders rocket away from the relegation zone.
Seven of Sunderland’s squad – Michael Turner, Phil Bardsley, Simon Mignolet, Seb Larsson, Craig Gardner, James McClean and Stephane Sessegnon – missed just 10 games between them since the start of February, with O’Neill reluctant to introduce those on the fringes.
Cattermole told the Echo: “I honestly don’t think we took our foot off the gas or anything like that, which people do think. You want to win every game.
“But we had such a big effort to pull ourselves out of the position we were in.
“If you look at the players who have played, it’s only been the same 13 or 14 lads.
“There’s a lot of tired players in there, especially after the FA Cup with the replays against Middlesbrough and Everton.
“It does take its toll, not only physically, but mentally.
“We got safe a lot quicker than we thought and it might have been a big weight off our shoulders.
“Overall, I think we’ve done brilliant since the turn of the year.”
Cattermole blames a run of five draws from the final eight games for Sunderland’s inability to achieve a second successive top half finish.
That meagre total put paid to Sunderland’s pre-season goal of finishing in the top 10, with O’Neill’s men ultimately finishing below newly-promoted duo Norwich and Swansea in the Premier League pecking order.
“We got ourselves in such a good position and we were looking at getting to Wembley in the FA Cup as well,” added the midfielder.
“But we lost that game and then we had a couple of games where we could have kicked on and maybe looked at an eighth finish. That was still on the cards if we’d beaten Fulham.
“But we’ve ended up drawing games we think we were capable of winning and it slipped away from us.”