JOHN O’Shea admits Sunderland cannot fall short against a third successive relegation candidate after ruing four dropped points in the battle for the top 10.
Sunderland’s stalemate at Aston Villa on Saturday was their second goalless draw against one of the bottom six after the Black Cats could not find a way past basement boys Wolves seven days earlier.
The failure to end a winless league run which now stands at five proved costly, with West Brom’s win at Liverpool yesterday sending Sunderland out of the top half with just three games remaining.
Defender O’Shea, right, back in the side against Villa after a month-long absence with a calf problem, knows Sunderland must make the most of their opponents’ drop worries next Saturday when second-bottom Bolton visit the Stadium of Light.
O’Shea said: “When you’re at home to Wolves and away to Villa and you’ve only picked up two points, you’re hugely disappointed at dropping four.
“Those four points could be the ones to keep us pushing towards that top eight or nine positions in the league.
“We’re letting the season tail off a little bit after going on a fantastic run and we’ve got to make sure we finish off as strong as we can.
“It’s an unforgiving league. You can be in eighth or ninth and two weeks later you could be in 14th. You want to make sure you’re in that top half of the table.
“No matter if it was a team in the Champions League positions or one in the relegation zone, we’re hoping to dominate at home and create lots of chances and win the game, ultimately.
“That’s something we’ll be looking to do on Saturday.”
Fortune did not favour Sunderland on Martin O’Neill’s return to Villa Park after Nicklas Bendtner’s second half strike was incorrectly ruled out for offside.
But the Wearsiders spurned several other opportunities to break the deadlock and end a goalless run which now stands at more than six hours.
O’Shea is not too concerned by Sunderland’s drought, though, warning Bolton they could be on the receiving end of a rout if the Black Cats can profit from their chances in front of goal.
“You never know, someone could be on the end of a hiding if we start taking our chances and finishing teams off,” said the 30-year-old.
“Bolton will know they’ll be in for a tough game next weekend and won’t get anything easy up at the Stadium of Light.
“We knew Villa were under a lot of pressure due to their position in the league and missing a lot of their important players.
“Even on Saturday, two of their best players went off injured as well.
“We were hoping to capitalise on that situation. For large parts of the game, we were thinking ‘how have we not scored?’.
“Credit to Villa, they caused us a few problems as well, but I thought we had the better chances.
“When you see Nick’s goal, it probably should have stood. Those are the decisions in games that you’re banking on the assistants to get right. It’s frustrating.
“If we had got one goal, we would definitely have got two or three. We hit them quite well on the counter-attack.
“But frustration is the over-riding emotion.”