Oatway in awe of Sunderland’s fantastic achievement

Charlie Oatway.
Charlie Oatway.
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SUNDERLAND’S backroom staff sat down in their Stadium of Light office late on Wednesday night and shared a beer.

“Thank God,” was the prevailing emotion among them after victory over West Brom rubber-stamped Sunderland’s place in the Premier League.

Ever since Gus Poyet and his coaching team arrived on Wearside they have been fire-fighting; tasked with that all-important objective of keeping the club in the Premier League.

Now they’ve done it, but coming to grips with that achievement has been a strange sensation.

First-team coach Charlie Oatway admits he’s still getting used to waking up in the morning and not thinking about how Norwich City would fare on the following weekend.

It’s been draining for all-involved and while Oatway is still revelling in the “miracle” achieved by players and staff, it’s not something he wishes to repeat.

“What the players have put themselves through is a credit to them, I’ve got to take my hat off to them,” he said.

“It’s been a fantastic achievement, but I wouldn’t want to go through that again.

“I wouldn’t want my worse enemies to go through it because it is draining for everyone at the club.”

Oatway is insistent that there was never a point in the relegation dogfight where he accepted Sunderland’s fate and thought they were destined for the Championship.

Inevitably, he realised how grim the situation looked, with Sunderland seven points adrift of safety with six games to go.

The former Brighton midfielder knew Sunderland needed to pull a rabbit out of the hat with an unexpected result or two which would prove to be coupon busters.

But Oatway is adamant that there was no white flag of surrender.

“I’d be a liar if I said it wasn’t a worry,” he said.

“We needed some sort of shock. But we managed to get that somehow.

“I wouldn’t say we were dead and buried, but it was going to be hard with the games we had coming up.

“But you’ve still got to have that belief that it’s never over.

“People were writing us off and rightly so in certain aspects, bearing in mind where we were a month ago.

“You can understand why people did it.

“But the last month has been fantastic with the way we’ve got our points.”

Oatway says he first sensed the Great Escape was on after Sunderland emerged victorious at Chelsea - ending Jose Mourinho’s 78-game unbeaten run in the Premier League at Stamford Bridge.

While Sunderland had grabbed a surprise point at Manchester City three days earlier, they got over the winning line at Chelsea to record their first victory since February and create a sense of renewed belief among the players.

Oatway said: “”For me, it was the Chelsea game.

“We played ever so well at Man City and people said we could have won it, but then again, we could have lost it. You’ve got to be open-minded.

“But after the Chelsea game, I thought we’ve got a good chance.

“A couple of results gives you so much more belief and gave us the belief that we could turn this around.

“That bred more and more confidence.”

But what was the spark for those vastly improved performances against Man City, Chelsea, and it has to be said, the luckless 1-0 defeat to Everton at the start of April?

Plenty of theories abound.

Undoubtedly, the return of Connor Wickham was a factor. So too, was the use of Lee Cattermole, Jack Colback and Seb Larsson as a central midfield trio.

But Oatway believes the 5-1 rout at Tottenham - when Sunderland had opened the scoring - proved to be a Eureka moment for both players and staff.

From that point, Sunderland improved their work-rate and closing-down off-the-ball, which prevented the top six outfits that they subsequently faced enjoying the space and time to cause carnage.

“I think maybe the Tottenham game gave us a kick up the backside,” he added.

“Everyone knows Gus wants to play from the back, but you’ve got to make sure you do the ugly side every game.

“Maybe that was the turning point.

“Maybe we neglected that running around, harrying and getting in people’s faces.

“In the last month or so, we’ve maybe put that back into them.”