The anxiety over Sunderland’s plight in the relegation battle took its toll in the dire first half against Bournemouth, admits Sam Allardyce.
Sunderland’s performance in the opening 25 minutes against the Cherries on Saturday was arguably as bad as they have produced at the Stadium of Light all season, with the Black Cats fortunate to only trail 1-0, before Patrick van Aanholt grabbed an ill-deserved equaliser on the stroke of half-time.
It’s far from the first time this season that Sunderland have begun a game at a snail’s pace, with the Black Cats conceding nine times in the opening 15 minutes this season – including two in the 2-0 defeat at Bournemouth back in September.
Allardyce suspected that such a sluggish start on Saturday stemmed from nerves over a crucial game in the relegation battle, and recognises that he has to encourage his players to begin in a more positive fashion.
“Maybe it’s a little bit of apprehension about how it’s going to go, with the position we’re in,” he said.
“Instead of going out on the front foot, we sit back, so I’ve got to encourage them to be more positive.
“As a team, we need to go forwards and put the opposition under pressure as much as we can. But we can only do that if we use the ball better and make angles for ourselves.
“Then hopefully we can get off to a better start.”
Allardyce insists he has to keep a cool head though, despite Sunderland’s predicament in the battle for survival looking increasingly bleak.
“You have to stay calm and make decisions that are the best for the team hopefully,” he added.
“The best decision I made on Saturday was to switch around Adam Johnson and Jeremain Lens.
“That switch, in itself, started to get us back in the game a bit more.
“And then the players got better control of the ball and started probing Bournemouth a bit more.”