Sunderland legend Julio Arca feels the Black Cats are suffering from not having a player who can support Jermain Defoe up front.
Victor Anichebe was in sparkling form earlier in the season, but David Moyes’ side have struggled for goals, and wins, since the Nigerian target man was sidelined by injury. The Black Cats have now failed to score in five of their last six games.
Arca, speaking to Made in Tyne and Wear’s Football Matters show, said: “Well, they’ve definitely got experience. Defoe, I think personally he’s missing one to play alongside him.
“When Anichebe played for a few games with him Sunderland looked like a different team.
“He is hard to replace with so few games left in the season, so the manager has to try again to find his best XI to try and get away from the battle at the bottom.
“The main thing is you have to keep the players motivated to carry on. They escaped in the last three or four seasons – I don’t think it is impossible, they are still only a few points from safety.
“The way Sunderland have been playing, it hasn’t been the best, but, in this league, anything can happen.”
One cause for optimism for Arca is the return of Jordan Pickford from injury.
The young keeper suffered ligament damage in a collision with Papy Djilobodji at Old Trafford on Boxing Day, but returned at Goodison Park 12 days ago and impressed despite the defeats to Everton and Man City.
Arca has picked out the 23-year-old as his highlight of the season so far.
He said: “He’s been the highlight of the season for Sunderland, a young player coming through the academy, a player that adapted really well to the first team.
“For a keeper to be playing in the Premier League at such a young age, he’s showing composure. He’s been great. Obviously, the performances and results are not helping him, but he’s one of the best players this season.”
Arca also paid tribute to the Sunderland fans turning out in such high numbers, saying: “A lot of people ask me, how the fans keep coming, but that is what you get.
“No matter what the position of the team, you will always get lots of there, that’s the spirit in the North East. Newcastle is the same – they’re here for the team, yeah they got frustrated because they want to win.
“When that stadium [SoL] is full, it is like having 12 players. Hopefully, they can get a result next Saturday, that’s a big, big game and they have to win.”
The full interview aired on Made in Tyne and Wear’s Football Matters last night at 9.30pm on Sky channel 117 or Freeview channel 7 and Virgin Media channel 159.
The show, which also features our very own Head of Sport Ross Gregory, is repeated on Friday at 10pm and Saturday at 10am.
For those living outside the region the show is also available online at madeintyneandwear.tv