FABIO BORINI was utterly spent by the time he made way for Adam Johnson in the closing stages of Saturday’s stalemate at West Ham.
The same applied to Emanuele Giaccherini, who was forced to labour on jelly legs through the finale after Gus Poyet had already used all of his three substitutes.
The Italian duo’s mammoth effort, rather than any lack of fitness, had taken its toll as they both worked up and down the touchlines to help out their full-backs, as well as supporting lone striker Jozy Altidore.
Sunderland have looked at their most fluent this season when playing that system of two widemen just behind a central frontman.
But Poyet’s men are desperate for wins, and goals, to claw back the five-point deficit with safety.
And on-loan Liverpool man Borini has suggested Sunderland’s forward-thinking players may have to sacrifice some of their defensive responsibilities and concentrate on staying up the park to secure those crucial points.
Borini told SportMail: “We work well defensively, but it’s hard to keep fresh and go straight to the goal at the opposite end.
“Maybe we need to concentrate a bit more on the offensive side as then we’ll have a lot more chances to win the game.
“We played really well defensively at West Ham, but we obviously need to improve offensively – we need to be more clinical with our finishing.”
Before Sunderland can resume their Premier survival challenge, they have tonight’s Capital One Cup quarter-final with Borini’s former club Chelsea to worry about.
Sunderland pushed Chelsea hard when Jose Mourinho’s side visited the Stadium of Light 13 days ago in the Premier League, with Eden Hazard making the difference in the 4-3 victory.
And Borini, who came through the youth ranks at Stamford Bridge, says Chelsea will be expecting another fierce test tonight on Wearside.
“Chelsea are always one of those teams that you give your maximum against because it’s a big game,” added the 22-year-old.
“But we gave them a good game in the league and they will have been scared after winning 4-3 at our stadium.
“They will have that result and our performance in mind.”