Sunderland have the strongest squad in relegation battle, insists midfielder
The strength of Sunderland's squad will see them successfully top the mini-league survival battle, believes midfielder Jack Rodwell.
Frustration has become the overriding emotion in the Sunderland camp over the last fortnight after Sam Allardyce’s men have thrown away the lead in the dying stages against both Southampton and Newcastle.
If Sunderland had held on to those 1-0 advantages, the Black Cats would now be two points ahead of Norwich City and six clear of North East rivals Newcastle.
Instead, Sunderland find themselves two points adrift of Norwich and only one ahead of the Magpies, with two of the three sides appearing destined to join Aston Villa in the Championship, despite Crystal Palace’s descent down the table.
But after January signings Wahbi Khazri, Lamine Kone and Jan Kirchhoff have all markedly improved the Sunderland line-up, there remains a feeling of confidence in the Black Cats dressing room that there is sufficient quality to prevail in the survival battle.
“I look at our squad and we shouldn’t be where we are,” said Rodwell.
“In my opinion, we should be mid-table minimal.
“But year after year, we allow ourselves to slip into this point where with eight to 10 games left, we’re right in it.
“And then the pressure builds.
“But the performances are a lot better and in my opinion, the players are good enough to do the job.
“I 100 per cent believe we can do it, but we have to do it on the pitch.”
An inability to keep a clean sheet has been the root cause of Sunderland’s continued presence in the relegation zone after 16 consecutive games without a shut-out.
Several players admitted after Sunday’s 1-1 derby draw against Newcastle that the pattern of soft goals was becoming a psychological barrier, particularly when Sunderland continue to throw away precious points.
Rodwell said: “We’re craving that clean sheet. We’ve been so close in a few games.
“It’s a lapse of concentration or something, which we’ve got to address.
“The performances are there, we’re playing better.
“We’ve just got to do it for 95 minutes.
“It’s frustrating, but there’s eight games left and I think we need four wins now.”
Rodwell has started Sunderland’s last three games after being preferred to Lee Cattermole and fit-again Seb Larsson as the most attack-minded of Sunderland’s central midfield trio.
And the 25-year-old’s performances have generally shown an improvement, particularly in the first half of the Tyne-Wear derby.
“I’ve played the last three games and I feel fit,” added the £10million man.
“That’s the big thing for me, to stay fit and then I’ll get sharper with every game.
“Hopefully I can stay in and finish the season strong.”