SUNDERLAND hope to have Steven Fletcher and Danny Rose available for tomorrow’s critical Premier League clash at Southampton.
Rose failed a late fitness test on an ankle injury before last Saturday’s 3-1 defeat at Manchester United, while seven-goal leading scorer Fletcher twisted his back during the pre-match warm-up at Old Trafford and, having aggravated it during the first half, was withdrawn at the interval.
The Black Cats travel to St Mary’s standing 16th in the table after claiming just three wins in 17 league games this season. They sit one place and a point above the Saints, who have a game in hand, and two places but a single point above the relegation zone.
That has raised the pressure on Martin O’Neill to deliver victory from tomorrow’s trip south.
But the Sunderland manager has been boosted by favourable injury news in the shape of Fletcher and Rose. “Fletcher has done a bit of work, and each day that goes on is easier,” said O’Neill.
“Danny Rose is also improving, he has a bit more work to do, but he is certainly improving as well. Steven turned and twisted in the
warm-up. Danny’s was a matter of time. He failed a fitness test last week and Steven’s injury was a new one, but at this time it is certainly better than it was last week.
“But we have got Friday to get through yet.
“We have trained indoors today (Thursday). We didn’t train that long on a surface the players are not used to, but it is nice to have that facility.”
Reflecting on recent performances by comparison to those nearer the start of the campaign, O’Neill says Sunderland must restore the fundamental aspects of defending if they are to improve a record of one win in their last six games, during which they have lost four.
“You defend as a team and you try to attack as a side, then you can be hard to beat,” he said.
“I feel that even though we were not scoring, I felt we were defending as a team before.
“Now I think we need to get back to defending basics, really. Basic stuff.
“Manchester United carved us open a couple of times in the match and we conceded very basic stuff.
“They are a very fine side, but what you don’t want to do is make it easier for them. We showed too much respect for them.
“That’s not to say that (Robin) van Persie and Wayne Rooney and (Antonio) Valencia can’t create something even if you’re at the top of your game, but you can ill afford to wait before getting into a game.
“That was even the case at Norwich City. The second-half displays have been terrific in those but games can be lost before that.
“We showed what is required against Reading, getting the early goal and boosting confidence.
“I’m not saying you can score in the first few minutes of matches in every game, but the idea is to go into every game and keep confidence high for the game.”
Looking ahead to the prospect of facing Southampton, and star striker Rickie Lambert, O’Neill added: “I saw Southampton a few weeks ago at Loftus Road.
“They are very competitive. They are prepared to fight every step of the way.
“They got a big result against Newcastle and I saw them against Norwich as well. It’s a big game for us.
“Lambert has earned the right to be in this league. I have big admiration for players like him and (Grant) Holt, players that have worked hard to get to the top level. They have got their chance and they’re taking it.
“The top sides have different aspects to their game. So there is room for players who are prepared to mix it in the Premier League.”