HALF of Sunderland’s 14 Premier League draws this season have culminated in a tiresome stalemate.
The Black Cats have become the masters of the goalless draw; defensively solid, yet lacking the sufficient attacking potency to convert that platform into three points.
It was no surprise that December’s trip to even more shot-shy Aston Villa saw no goals – despite the hosts being reduced to 10 men early in the second half – and it would be equally predictable if tomorrow’s reverse fixture reaches a similar conclusion.
These two sides are the top flight’s lowest scorers for a reason.
But if there is to be a breakthrough this weekend, then the opening goal is going to be a meteoric one for this pair of strugglers flirting awkwardly with the drop.
Sunderland frontman Connor Wickham, in contention to replace Danny Graham in the starting line-up tomorrow, believes if Gus Poyet’s side can get that elusive first goal, then they will go on to secure the three points.
It’s a case of us scoring first and if we can do that, I don’t think there’s any doubt that we can hold teams off.Connor Wickham
Wickham told the Gazette: “I think we’ve always been a difficult team to beat and it’s hard for teams to break us down.
“We’re solid, communicate well and move well as a team. Teams came here at the start of the season and we stopped them creating chances.
“It’s a case of us scoring first and if we can do that, I don’t think there’s any doubt that we can hold teams off.
“We defend as a solid unit and we’re hard to break down. We just need to make it count at the other end.
“I don’t think there’s a specific time where you think ‘we need to go for the game’.
“The idea is to get the first goal, get a second and see the game out.
“But we’re defending well, creating chances and if we can score first, we can hold teams off.”
Sunderland’s victory over struggling Burnley at the end of January, looked to have provided the foundation for Poyet’s side to move into a far healthier league position.
But since then, Sunderland have taken just two points from meetings against fellow strugglers QPR, West Brom and Hull, and can ill-afford another squandered opportunity against a Villa side in confident mood after back-to-back victories over West Brom.
Inevitably, Sunderland’s continued presence in the relegation dogfight has prompted criticism from supporters at yet another scrap to stay in the Premier League.
Wickham is not surprised by that, but believes it was always going to take a while for Sunderland to shed the tag of annual strugglers.
“We understand the frustration of the fans, but we need them as much as possible,” he added.
“It’s going to take a while.
“You can see what the gaffer is trying to do.
“We’re solid as a unit and trying to pass it around.
“Maybe, we do pass it a bit too much, but I think we’re doing all right as a team.
“We’re working hard in training to put the gaffer’s ideas into practise and take it into the games on a Saturday.”