Be brave, urges Sunderland star

John O'Shea
John O'Shea
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JOHN O’SHEA admits Sunderland need to be mentally strong to emerge victorious from tonight’s crunch relegation scrap with Reading.

Sunderland produced an encouraging display in Saturday’s defeat to Chelsea, yet the burden of expectation was not huge on Martin O’Neill’s men despite the visitors heading into the game on the back of a seven-game winless run in the Premier League.

But tonight’s meeting between the 18th and 19th placed teams in the top flight provides a stark contrast, with the weight of pressure on Sunderland to record a first Stadium of Light victory since September after dropping into the relegation zone.

Stand-in skipper O’Shea (pictured) is well aware of the magnitude of the game and says Sunderland need to block out the tension and keep their composure when in possession.

O’Shea told the Echo: “I know the onus will be on us tonight, but the players feel no matter who we’re playing at home, it’s up to us to put on a fantastic performance and try to win the game.

“That will be the same tonight. There’s added pressure and there’ll be a lot of talk, but it’s up to the players to get on the ball, show a bit of bravery and take people on.

“You need that bravery to get on the ball and show you’re capable of playing football.”

Sunderland have endured a miserable home run of just one win in 11 Premier League encounters on Wearside, but there was applause, rather than dissent at the final whistle on Saturday after a spirited second half display from the hosts.

While O’Shea was encouraged by the performance against Chelsea, the Republic of Ireland international knows Sunderland need to banish the tension on the terraces tonight by providing some cheer on the field.

“We’ve got fantastic fans, but we need to give them something to get behind us and when we did that against Chelsea, they gave us fantastic support,” added the 31-year-old.

“The attitude of the lads was good and rightly so. The fans pay their money and the least we should do is work hard and show a positive attitude to try to create goals.

“On another day, one of those free-kicks goes screaming into the top corner, rather than Petr Cech saving it.

“And throughout the whole game, Johnno (Adam Johnson) gave Ashley Cole a very tough game.

“Another day, the luck would have fallen for him. We just need to keep working hard to make sure that happens.”