WITH Gus Poyet suffering from a head cold which left him peering out between snood and hat during Sunderland’s win over Stoke City last night, it was left to first-team coach Charlie Oatway to face the Press afterwards.
And Oatway was not afraid to hype up the importance and the significance of the Black Cats’ first Premier League home win since November – a result which took them out of the bottom three for the first time in 151 days.
“It’s fantastic for us to be out of the bottom three, if I’m honest,” he beamed. “It has been a long time coming.
“When Gus and the rest of us first arrived at Sunderland, it was one of our very first aims.
“It has taken a long time to do it, but the satisfaction in the camp is fantastic.
“It would be wrong of me to say that now we’re out of the bottom three the shackles will come off because I don’t think we’ve been playing with the shackles on particularly.
“I think we have been improving generally as the season progresses and maybe we’ll feel a little more at ease now that we’ve got a home win and are out of the bottom three.
“But we are taking nothing for granted.”
Oatway admitted that it was not easy for him or Poyet or any of the coaching staff to watch a final half-hour of purgatory when Sunderland laboured against 10-man Stoke and could easily have surrendered their slender lead.
“You know what to expect come to town – they never disappoint you – they look to put balls into the box and they fight tooth and nail for every ball,” added the former Brighton coach.
“So there were always going to be periods in the game when we were going to have our backs against the wall when you are playing Stoke.
“And that’s when your players have to stand up and be count and thankfully we stood up to it – there were quite a few boys out there who played like real men for us.”
Adam Johnson was Sunderland’s match-winner on the night with a cute first-half finish which Stoke fought unsuccessfully to come back from.
And Oatway said one of the things the coaching staff took most pleasure from was seeing the ex-Manchester City and England winger returning to the form which first prompted Martin O’Neill to shell out £10million of Ellis Short’s money for his services.
“No-one’s ever doubted Adam Johnson’s ability,” he said. “I’m just glad that we’ve started to get the best out of him.
“He’s firing on all cylinders at the moment and he has to take a lot of credit for that himself.
“We’ve needed a bit of a bright spark in our play and thankfully it has been him.
“At this moment in time, we are just trying to make sure he sees a lot of the ball and in the right positions.
“He did really well because he’d been carrying a knock but got on with it and won us the game.”
Oatway confirmed that midfielder Lee Cattermole has also had a knock which had ruled him out of last night’s match.
“Lee has played through so many games this season where he has had a knock,” he said. “But this was just one too many
“It’s a long season and it wasn’t worth the risk to play him in this game and risk losing him for the next three or four.”
The Teessider’s absence sparked fresh speculation over Stoke’s reported interest in him, but Hughes insisted no bid had been tabled and Oatway confirmed that.