Dan Ballard reveals Sunderland's reaction after Stoke loss before Norwich and Sheffield United performances
Daniel Ballard admits Sunderland’s confidence took a hit following this month’s heavy defeat by Stoke - but says recent performances against Norwich and Sheffield United have restored some belief.
The Black Cats were thrashed 5-1 by The Potters, the first time they have lost by more than two goals this season, but responded by beating Norwich at Carrow Road.
Tony Mowbray’s side then produced a spirited performance against Sheffield United as they were narrowly beaten 2-1 against a side sitting second in the table.
When reflecting on the Stoke defeat and how the squad have reacted, Ballard told the Echo: “It was an extremely tough day, especially in front of the home fans, and we took a hit in confidence.
“I think with the away game at Norwich it was probably the perfect team to play, a really tough fixture away from home and a game where the lads responded really well.
“We tightened up a lot at the back and became really tough to play against, and we sort of took that mentality into this game (against Sheffield United).
“Even though they were on top, especially in that first half, they didn’t create too many chances.
“We always know we are going to score, I can’t remember too many games where we haven’t scored, so it’s just about being tough to break down and hitting teams on the break because we have real quality at the top end of the pitch.”
Ballard and his Sunderland team-mates were left frustrated that Sheffield United’s winning goal was allowed to stand, with opposing players standing in an offside position as Tommy Doyle’s free-kick went past goalkeeper Anthony Patterson.
“I think they are all standing offside,” said Ballard.
“We have been brave, we’ve held our line really well and there were three or four offside, and I think one has clearly went to strike the ball and Patto has reacted from that.
“If they are not offside challenging for the ball, Patto just picks that one up. It’s frustrating but I thought the lads reacted really well from it.
“It is tough when decisions go against you like they did today but there’s not much you can do about it and you’ve just got to focus on what you can do.”
The result strengthened Sheffield United’s position in second place in the Championship, moving them six points clear of third-place Middlesbrough with nine games remaining.
“They are obviously second in the table and you could see their quality throughout the game,” added Ballard.
“It’s a frustrating one because I feel like we gave it our all and probably weren’t at our best today, but I thought we reacted really well after the second goal and were pushing hard for the equaliser.
“It was a huge game for them so we wanted to be tough to break down. We hit the post and forced a few good saves.
“I think on the whole it was disappointing. I don’t think we were miles behind them. I think you can see their quality though, they are a very good team and that’s why they’ll probably go up in the automatic spots.”