SUCCESS or failure in Sunderland’s last seven games of the 2013-14 season will depend as much upon mental strength as physical skill and stamina, says Gus Poyet.
The Black Cats’ head coach watched in alarm as his side all but capitulated in the closing stages of their 5-1 defeat against Spurs on Monday.
Sunderland took the lead through Lee Cattermole’s first goal in Sunderland colours, but Spurs pulled one back before half-time, grabbed a second and then, when Christian Eriksen notched their third, the floodgates opened.
Sunderland conceded five by the end but could have conceded more and Poyet insists that can’t be allowed to happen again.
If it is to be prevented, he says every player has to show the hunger for the fight.
“It’s true in my opinion that the biggest side of the game is often the mentality of the team and the players,” he said, ahead of tomorrow’s testing showdown with high-flying Everton.
“That’s true whether you are at the top of the table or the bottom.
“You have to keep training so you don’t lose sharpness or intensity, but, when you are fighting relegation, you need to be mentally strong, you need to feel good rather than fearful.
“If we have that strength, that determination, I hope we have to enough to do something even now.
“We will see.”
Poyet is showing his own mental strength in selecting teams and formations that may not be popular with many.
To make his decisions, the former Brighton boss has been taking the opinions of the players themselves, although he stresses that the final call is always his.
“Whatever team I am picking, I am always looking to pick for the best, to pick the team that can win the game,” said Poyet.
“I have final selection in terms of who we pick, but I do welcome feedback from the players.
“It’s helpful – even if I disagree with them.
“I have listened to them, but often they have no idea of what team I have decided to go with until shortly before the match.”
Poyet was criticised for not starting top scorer Adam Johnson against West Ham recently – Sunderland’s most dangerous attacking playing a starring role when he was brought on for the last half-hour of the game.
But Johnson failed to sparkle at White Hart Lane on Monday, which potentially vindicated the Uruguayan’s belief that there are games where the winger’s best contribution can be made as an impact substitute.
“The Adam Johnson situation is an interesting one,” Poyet said.
“Everyone says he needs to start – but consider the impact he made against West Ham in the last half-hour, compared to how he did in 90 minutes against Spurs.
“It’s always something to think about but he is a very important player to us and never more so than now, when we are looking for a team that will get us wins, not just to put on a decent display.”
* Don’t miss tomorrow’s online Football Echo – available on this website from around 6.45pm – with our report, pictures and verdict on Sunderland v Everton, plus much more.