Sunderland’s O’Shea refuses to hide or give up

Sunderland's John O'Shea.
Sunderland's John O'Shea.
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MORE than 2,000 minutes of interview time have been clocked up by John O’Shea this season.

That’s the baggage which comes with being both a former Manchester United man and Sunderland’s captain.

Only Adam Johnson in the Black Cats squad has come anywhere close to matching O’Shea’s stint in front of the microphone.

But fronting up to face the press in the current mess Sunderland find themselves in isn’t an easy task for the 32-year-old, regardless of how experienced he is with the media demands which accompany being a modern Premier League player.

O’Shea had the bottle to front up though.

Some will argue players shouldn’t be saying anything with results so dire, while there would be equally be accusations of “hiding” if no-one emerged from the dressing room.

It’s the no-win situation which stems from being in a struggling side.

But there was realism from O’Shea, mixed with a healthy dose of common sense after putting his head above the parapet.

While there was no attempt to mask the magnitude of the defeat against West Ham earlier this week, the skipper typically stressed the importance of continuing to battle against the drop.

He’s right. What’s the point of throwing in the towel?

For all the sense of doom and gloom, there are still eight games to go and 24 points up for grabs. In an era of snap judgements from both supporters and journalists, that shouldn’t be forgotten.

And while the next four Premier League outings – against Spurs, Everton, Manchester City and Chelsea – seem horrendous on paper, two of Sunderland’s six top flight wins this season have come against those sides.

“It wasn’t a fatal blow against West Ham,” said O’Shea. “It was a big blow, we’re fully aware of that.

“But we have a chance to do something about it still. The quicker we can get that win from somewhere, it would just give everyone that massive boost.

“We have to look at the performances we have put in against the bigger teams where we have caused problems and scored goals.”

Inevitably, says O’Shea, Sunderland’s players have discussed the gravity of the situation.

“Of course you have a chat among yourselves. You’re doing everything you can and processing everything,” said the Republic of Ireland international.

“Hopefully we can put it into practice and make sure that if you do everything, you will get the three points.”

He wasn’t afraid to be self-criticial of his own performance against the Hammers though, particularly as Sunderland’s tally conceded from set pieces this season extended to 15 goals.

But while the former Manchester United man is well aware that Sunderland need to show more defensive resolve if they are to beat the drop, he recognises the problem at the other end.

Scoring has been Sunderland’s Achilles heel for each of the last three seasons. The goals of Darren Bent, Asamoah Gyan and Danny Welbeck have not been consistently replaced.

The Black Cats have netted just 28 times in 30 league games and a dramatic improvement is needed in the finale from Gus Poyet’s side, if Sunderland are going to register the victories needed for survival.

O’Shea said: “It will be the goals that get you three points.

“We want to go forward because we need to get that win from somewhere.

“You give yourself a greater chance if you’re getting a clean sheet.

“But if we don’t score, draws aren’t going to be enough for us. We need wins.

“It’s that fine balance of ‘yeah we want the clean sheet’, but we need the goals as well.”

An element of luck wouldn’t go amiss either.

Referee Howard Webb missed a blatant handball from Hammers skipper Kevin Nolan in front of O’Shea on Monday, which would have handed Sunderland a timely chance to net an equaliser on the stroke of half-time.

“We need that slice of luck that when you do get a handball against you, the referee sees it and you get a penalty,” he added.

“But you can’t keep saying ‘if we had got a penalty’ because we had other chances.

“We have to create more chances and take a few more.”