Sam Allardyce slams international break, as Sunderland's survival bid goes on ice
The two-week build-up to the Tyne-Wear derby proved a gruesome test of patience for Sunderland.
After the dejection of conceding a late equaliser at Southampton, Sam Allardyce and his players were left kicking their heels as Newcastle and Norwich both had opportunities to pick up points, with the latter ultimately able to leapfrog the Black Cats.
While none of the relegation fight combatants are in action this weekend, it’s another tiresome break from domestic action; not helped by Newcastle’s late equaliser in the Tyne-Wear derby leaving a cloud of frustration hanging over the Sunderland camp.
Allardyce has made no secret of his disdain for this international break; labelling it as a money-making exercise of meaningless friendlies.
His mood won’t be helped either if any of the six Sunderland first-teamers representing their countries - Seb Larsson, John O’Shea, Jordan Pickford, DeAndre Yedlin, Lamine Kone and Patrick van Aanholt - return to Wearside carrying injuries, albeit Wahbi Khazri pulled out of the Tunisia squad yesterday.
But when Sunderland eventually resume their run-in, they face back-to-back home games against West Brom and Leicester, which Allardyce believes are yet another opportunity to convert promise into points.
“We’ve got two home games coming up, although we’ve got two weeks to wait for it because of stupid friendlies and international games,” said the Sunderland manager.
“You have to put up with that.
“We had to wait two weeks for the Newcastle game when we didn’t want to.
“And now we’ve got to wait another two weeks, with international players going away, when there’s a chance they’ll get injured.
“Part of the reason why we’re performing so well at the moment is we’ve kept most of the players fit since the turn of the year.
“We’ve got them fitter, performing better and the new players have made a difference.
“We’ve just got to do that last little bit to get more enjoyment out of playing well, and that’s by winning.”
Aleksandar Mitrovic’s 83rd minute equaliser denied Sunderland a seventh successive derby victory at St James’s Park last weekend, as the Black Cats yet again surrendered an advantage when they appeared destined for three points.
Allardyce was fuming with that late blow, particularly after Sunderland had controlled proceedings for an hour before dropping deeper and deeper, despite the manager urging his side to push up the pitch.
But the small comfort for Allardyce is that Sunderland are at least proving to be adept at handling the pressure in high-stakes encounters.
“In the end, we have to continue to be reasonably satisfied by the performances,” he said.
“The performances since the turn of the year have been very good indeed.
“When you have this pressure of a relegation battle against your rivals, and you come and stand on the pitch and take control like we did, that shows you how much bottle we’ve got.
“It shows how much we can perform under that pressure.
“We just have to convert that little bit and turn performances into victories.”
The inability to keep a clean sheet remains a huge shortcoming though.
Sunderland have now gone 16 games without a shut-out and that clearly had a psychological effect in the latter stages at St James’s, as players abandoned their attacking ambitions.
“I know we’ve got to start keeping clean sheets, and if we don’t, it’ll go right to the wire,” added Allardyce.
“We could have won two games 1-0 now and should have won two games 1-0, and be sat on 30 points instead of 26.”