Sunderland’s Larsson up for fight ahead of Stoke City visit

Sebastian Larsson battles it out with Gabriel Obertan
Sebastian Larsson battles it out with Gabriel Obertan

SEB LARSSON insists anyone unable to handle the intense scrutiny coming Sunderland’s way is playing for the wrong club.

A winless start to the season which has seen Sunderland take just two points from the opening four games, lose the Wear-Tyne derby and crash out of the Carling Cup has put the focus on what is going wrong for the Black Cats.

Given 11 signings, including Swedish midfielder Larsson, arrived at the Stadium of Light during the summer, many were tipping Sunderland to enjoy a profitable campaign.

But far from being daunted by the growing pressure on Steve Bruce’s side, former Birmingham man Larsson claims he chose Sunderland over their Premier League rivals because he knew every result would have significant consequences.

Larsson told SportMail: “I knew that coming up here, it’s a big club with expectations and that’s what I wanted.

“I didn’t want to be at a club where you don’t do well and no-one really cares.

“It’s a situation that will bring the best out of us and you’ve got to be able to handle the pressure.

“I’m looking around the squad and it’s a good squad, a competitive one and one that can do really well in this league.

“But you can see in periods of the games that we still need to get to know each that little bit better. You get that from training with each other and playing games.

“If we can get that first win, hopefully we’ll start flying.

“Of course the Newcastle defeat knocked a bit of confidence out of us.

“It hurt a lot, especially after a game where we felt we should have come away with three points.

“It’s a game that you desperately don’t want to lose so it affects you.

“But you have to take that, get back up and get points, which we haven’t been able to do as much as we’d like.”

Sunderland are yet to take the lead in any game this season and Larsson believes an early goal in Sunday’s visit of Stoke City could make the difference by injecting some confidence into Bruce’s side.

“We’re desperate for that first win and we just feel like if we can get in front in the game, it could be the key to us getting three points,” added the 26-year-old.

“We’ve got to accept that we haven’t picked up as many points as we would have liked. But it’s a fine line in football. We’ve got to give the crowd something to cheer about and send them home happy this time around.

“We seem to be getting goalscoring opportunities in most games we’ve had. The time to worry is when you don’t create chances.

“If we can start well and get ahead in the game, I’m sure that will give us the confidence boost we need to go on and win.”

l STEVE Bruce has been left sweating on the fitness of John O’Shea after defender Phil Bardsley was handed a four-match ban.

Sunderland yesterday decided not to appeal against Bardsley’s FA charge after the full-back was retrospectively punished for what appeared to be a stamp on Chelsea’s Juan Mata during Saturday’s defeat to Chelsea.

Referee Lee Probert did not punish the 26-year-old at the time, but the FA decided to take action after viewing the video evidence.

Sunderland, wary of receiving an extended ban from a “frivolous” appeal, opted not to protest yesterday and they will be without the services of Bardsley for the games against Stoke, Norwich, West Brom and Arsenal.