Bramble: All eyes on Sunderland’s Norwich clash

Dejected Sunderland players as they slip to a 3-1 defeat against QPR at Loftus Road
Dejected Sunderland players as they slip to a 3-1 defeat against QPR at Loftus Road
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TITUS Bramble says under-fire Sunderland cannot afford to contemplate an ominous run of fixtures, while next weekend’s crunch encounter against Norwich lies on the horizon.

Sunderland’s lingering relegation worries increased markedly at Loftus Road on Saturday after throwing away the lead against basement boys QPR, who secured back-to-back Premier League victories for the first time since 1995.

Although the margin with the relegation zone remains six points, fellow strugglers Aston Villa narrowed the gap with Sunderland to three, while third-bottom Wigan can boast a game in hand on the Black Cats due to their weekend FA Cup exploits.

After a return of just two points from the last six games, the fixture list holds little salvation for Martin O’Neill’s side, with daunting encounters against Manchester United and Chelsea, plus the Tyne-Wear derby, to come after next Sunday’s crunch clash with 13th-placed Norwich City.

But although Bramble admits Sunderland are feeling the pressure as they labour to reach the 40-point safety mark, the centre-half insists the Black Cats must put all of their focus on ending a six-game winless streak against Chris Hughton’s Canaries.

Bramble told the Echo: “I know it’s an old cliché, but it is one game at a time.

“We’ll work hard this week to prepare for the Norwich game, which is a massive game.

“We’re obviously not right down at the bottom, but we have to to pick up some points.

“The sooner we get to 40 points, the better.

“Any team in that bottom area is going to be feeling the pressure, whether it’s us, QPR, Norwich or Villa.

“Anyone down there worries until you get a couple of wins and get out of trouble.

“The pressure’s going to be on against Norwich because we’ve lost four of the last five games and that’s not good enough for a club like ours.”

Steven Fletcher’s 11th goal of the season gave Sunderland the lead against the run of play at Loftus Road, before QPR drew level 10 minutes later when ex-Black Cats target Loic Remy benefited from a fortuitous deflection.

But with both sides struggling to create chances in an increasingly scrappy second half, the unmarked Andros Townsend gave QPR the lead with a stunning 25-yard strike before former Newcastle United midfielder Jermaine Jenas sealed the victory in the last minute with a similarly positioned volley.

“The first one got a deflection and the second came from a soft foul, but we had to deal with the ball into the box better,” added Bramble, the subject of weekend reports linking him with a summer move to Middlesbrough after his Sunderland deal expires.

“The second and third goals were two great strikes, but as a team, we’ve got to do better in closing them down and stopping the efforts coming in.

“We went a goal up and should have grown in confidence from that.

“But they got a second wind with the equaliser and came on strong in the second half and got a couple more goals.

“Even after they have equalised, we should have had the confidence that we could get ourselves back ahead.

“But we’re conceding far too many goals and not scoring enough either.

“We need to get back to basics, put a shift in and stop this run of bad results.”