Sunderland’s wafer-thin squad all need to battle says John O’Shea

COMPETITION:  John O'Shea

COMPETITION: John O'Shea

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JOHN O’SHEA says Sunderland have to shrug off their paper-thin options to maintain forward momentum this weekend.

Sunderland will be without SIX members of the first-team squad for Sunday’s visit of Everton after Gus Poyet was hit by another couple of absentees in Monday night’s victory at Crystal Palace.

The suspended Lee Cattermole and injured Patrick van Aanholt have joined the crocked quartet of Billy Jones, Emanuele Giaccherini, Ricky Alvarez and Sebastian Coates on the sidelines – forcing Poyet to turn to the Under-21s to make up the numbers in the squad this weekend.

Captain O’Shea admits Sunderland cannot survive with such meagre resources for long, stressing that competition for places is the key to the Black Cats’ fortunes this season.

But after moving out of the bottom three with victory against Palace, O’Shea says Poyet’s men need to make light of their absentees, before the fortnight’s international break provides an opportunity for respite.

O’Shea told the SportMail: “We have a small squad and we’re picking up injuries now.

“We have to make sure we look after everyone and get everyone back as quick as we can.

“The important thing is competition. You need that to keep everyone on their toes.

“The manager made changes the other night, with Costel (Pantilimon) coming in.

“But unfortunately, we’ve lost Pat to a shoulder problem.

“We realised Catts was suspended afterwards too, but Liam (Bridcutt) will probably come into contention now and hopefully just slot in.

“Competition is needed, but ultimately we need to keep winning games.”

With so many key figures sidelined, O’Shea says it is imperative that Sunderland keep Steven Fletcher fit.

A rejuvenated Fletcher netted his third and fourth goals of the season with a brace at Palace after returning to the form he showed at the start of his Sunderland career, following last year’s injury problems.

“The manager put him out of the team for a bit and he’s reacted brilliantly. That’s what we want,” O’Shea said. “The big thing is to just keep him fit.”

Victory against Palace eased the pressure that had been building on Sunderland after back-to-back defeats.

But with so little separating the sides outside of the top flight’s heavyweights, O’Shea believes composure may be the key attribute for those battling in the bottom half.

“We spoke about not panicking,” added the 33-year-old. “We’d started the season, not brilliantly, but solidly.

“Obviously the Southampton result took the gloss off everything and rightly so.

“There were a couple of mistakes against Arsenal when there wasn’t much in the game.

“But we bounced back against Palace and now it’s about carrying that forward.

“It’s about keeping your cool, keeping it basic and playing when you can. If we can do that and keep players fit, we’ll be OK.”