GUS POYET will reiterate to his Sunderland players that they must start on the front foot against West Brom tomorrow.
Sunderland have failed to recover from conceding inside the opening 20 minutes in each of the last two games, with meetings against both QPR and Bradford City culminating in damaging defeats for the Black Cats.
The manner of the early exchanges in Sunderland’s last home encounter against QPR, in particular, set the tone, with the Black Cats’ dismal ball retention handing the visitors the initiative and inevitably sparking frustration on the terraces.
Those sluggish starts have been characteristic of too many Stadium of Light performances of late, with the exception proving to be last month’s crucial victory over Burnley.
And Poyet says Sunderland have to come out of the blocks against the Baggies as they did against Burnley, with the incentive of leapfrogging Tony Pulis’ side in the dogfight at the wrong end of the Premier League table.
Poyet said: “Yes, we have to start better.
“Now, you can start great, but the game is still 95 minutes. We can’t think that just because we start well, that’s it.
“But when you are second best in certain things and everything becomes second best, then you concede.
“It takes a few minutes, or a few passes, or a tackle. We didn’t have that against QPR. It was difficult.
“I thought the players were ready against QPR and they were talking about starting in the same way as Burnley.
“Everything was set up to do the same.
“But you can go into any game and there’s a group of players who can start the game in a certain way and the opposition can take advantage.
“If you take advantage, then you’ve got a great chance.”
Prior to the QPR game 10 days ago, Sunderland appeared to have turned a corner and knew that a second home win on the spin would have created a healthy buffer with the bottom three.
But Sunderland find themselves back in the thick of the relegation scrap, with last weekend’s FA Cup humiliation prompting further flak towards Poyet and his players.
The head coach says Sunderland simply have to keep believing that they have enough to secure their top flight status, with the Black Cats managing to avoid falling into the bottom three all season.
He added: “Sometimes you think, why did that happen?
“People were saying I thought you were on the up. Yeah, me too. But it happens and we need to change that.
“The only way is us.
“It’s about keeping believing, keeping doing what we’ve doing and believing we’ve now got a player up front who will score (Jermain Defoe) even if he didn’t score against QPR. The first one who can make a mistake is me.
“At the end of the day I’m responsible. I couldn’t see that coming, but it did.”