Concerned Sam Allardyce admits that the five-point gap with the safety mark is a “massive” worry, with Sunderland becoming cast adrift of their in-form relegation rivals, writes Chris Young.
Second-bottom Sunderland’s position at Christmas looks alarmingly ominous, with Saturday’s defeat at reigning champions Chelsea sending the Black Cats into even deeper trouble, particularly after wins for fellow strugglers Bournemouth and Norwich.
Bournemouth have now won three games on the spin, while, despite drawing with basement boys Aston Villa, neighbours Newcastle United have taken seven points out of a possible nine.
By contrast, Sunderland have gone from the verge of averaging a point per game, to losing three on the spin, with Boxing Day’s trip to Manchester City and next Wednesday night’s visit of Liverpool, offering little encouragement over turning around the club’s fortunes.
When asked if he was concerned by the gulf to safety, Allardyce said: “Massively, massively now because if we’d got a result against Watford it would have taken us a little closer to the points-per-games total.
“We’re deeper in the mire from having played 17 games and got 12 points.
“If we’d have beaten Watford, we’d have been on 15 points after 16 games, and I’d have accumulated 12 points in my first eight games, which would have been mega.
“We failed that miserably, and that, for me, was the bigger disappointment than Chelsea.
“I’m disappointed with this performance, but we didn’t deserve anything.
“But not beating Watford was the real big one, knowing what fixtures we’ve got coming over the Christmas period.”
Sunderland haven’t even performed well in the last two of their three successive losses, with the Black Cats yet again paying the price for a snail-paced start when Chelsea were 2-0 up inside 13 minutes.
It prompted Allardyce to turn to his bench after 20-odd minutes for the second time in a week, before another change at half-time.
And two-and-a-half months into the job, Allardyce admits he’s having to think long and hard about his strongest system and side.
“Certainly in the last two games, I’ve had to change 20 minutes in to try to help the team,” he added.
“They didn’t cope with Watford in the first 10-15 minutes and they didn’t cope at Chelsea either.
“I’ve had to change the team to try to help them cope, rather than them taking responsibility themselves.
“But when you see things going wrong as a manager, you change whatever you need to change.”
“I think I’ve got to sit down and debate again and again what and who we’re going to play.
“I’m changing the team too much.
“I want to change the team via suspensions or injuries, not by poor performances.
“But I have to be honest, I saw so many poor performances in the first half that I could have changed almost all the outfield players.
“I haven’t got that luxury.
“I have said to the players that they have to take more responsibility for their own performance and be more consistent.”