Ashley Fletcher keen to maintain feelgood factor
Sunderland ended the weekend just about where they started it, with Birmingham City's win over Ipswich Town increasing the safety gap to five points once more.
All on Wearside will hope that this Easter weekend proves to be crucial nevertheless.
A fine 4-1 win over Derby County on Good Friday raised the slim but real possibility of another great escape for the Red and Whites.
It was a significant moment for Ashley Fletcher, who ended his goal drought with a fine strike and then almost doubled his tally, curling a fine effort off the post in the second half.
The Middlesbrough loanee celebrated that opener in front of the delighted away support, a special moment for the 22-year-old who has faced his fair share of criticism since arriving on deadline day.
“The break was good for me,” Fletcher said.
“Obviously I was getting criticism and I took it on board.
“I went back to see my family, regroup and think about what I needed to do in the next few games. I think it helped in a way.
“To be fair, justifiably I’ve had a bit of stick from our fans.
“I hold my hands up – performances haven’t been up to my usual standard.
“I want to show them what I’m about, really.
“The fans keep backing us every week so to have 2,000 there again, fair play to them for travelling and sticking with us.
“Everyone was buzzing at the end and I haven’t had the feeling we had in the dressing room since I’ve been at the club. Hopefully it can continue.
“There’s been some tough days but that’s the way football is.
“It’s probably the stickiest patch I’ve had in my career and I’m still quite young to deal with that.
“It has been tough, but hopefully the good times now are starting to come and I’ve got to continue these performances into the games next week.
“I came because I knew it would be tough.
“It can go one of two ways – if the goal goes in against Bristol City (in February’s 3-3 draw), it’s a different kind of scenario for me.
It’s just those fine margins, but hopefully the goal can give me confidence.
“I was buzzing in the dressing room afterwards and the lads could see that.
“Our main focus now is just on carrying on with these results.”
The Black Cats were a team transformed against the Rams, unquestionably helped by the host’s defensive gremlins, but still more than worthy of the three-goal difference.
For Fletcher, a more attacking mentality was key, with Aiden McGeady and Lynden Gooch both excelling in a new-look 4-3-3 system.
Sunderland’s task remains daunting, but, ahead of today’s clash with Sheffield Wednesday (3pm kick-off), Fletcher says the team have proven to themselves that they can beat any oppponent in the league.
With third-top Fulham and leaders Wolves still to be played, he probably needs to be right.
Fletcher said: “I can’t really put my finger on what the difference was on Friday, but we were just a bit more attacking and chances were coming left, right and centre.
“If we play with that confidence every week, there are not going to be too many teams who will beat us.
“Aiden McGeady’s played at the European Championships and he’s a top, top player.
“When he’s on his day, he’s probably one of the best in the league.
“For me to play with a player like him is great.
“Lynden Gooch came in as well and I thought he was unbelievable too.
“He’s not playing much, but I think he made a real difference as well.
“To beat a team like Derby 4-1 at Pride Park ... they’re in fifth and it just shows how unpredictable the league can be.
“Sheffield Wednesday also had a good result on Friday (beating Alex Neil’s Preston 4-1 at Hillsborough), so it’s going to be two teams who’ve had good results up against each other at the Stadium of Light.
“We’ve got to keep that level of performance up and hopefully it turns for us.”