Gus Poyet backs his Sunderland players for relegation fight, says some critics “haven’t got a clue”

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No one wants to be in a relegation scrap, but Sunderland boss Gus Poyet says his Black Cats are motivated to leap out of the drop zone as soon as possible.

And even through controversy from his player selection and Sunderland’s subsequent dismissal from the FA Cup quarterfinals at the hands of Hull City, Poyet maintains that the battle for Premier League survival will be enough for his club ahead of its massive Saturday match-up with Crystal Palace.

“If I was a player, going to play the team three points ahead, I wouldn’t be affected or down just because there is no more cup and no more Wembley.”

“If there are weak players in the dressing room feeling sorry, I assure you they will not play.”

The fans and some pundits have hit back at Poyet for his changing of the lineup between Sunderland’s March 1 loss to Manchester City in the League Cup final and Sunday’s aforementioned loss to Hull.

He had strong words for them as well.

“People will criticise, but you cannot go back – some of them haven’t got a clue what goes on behind the doors.”

“Wes Brown and Craig Gardner were injured, Jozy Altidore and Valentin Roberge ill, Emanuele Giaccherini started and he is one of our most expensive players, Steven Fletcher is coming back and Ignacio Scocco needs to play.

“There are no excuses from me, if someone wants to look for some, then fine. I’m man enough to say we played 11 first-team players that were certainly good enough to win the match.”

So there are some more answers for those questioning why Altidore wasn’t suiting up for the Hull match.

Sunderland sits in 19th place with 24 points, one point back of Cardiff City and West Bromwich Albion. The Black Cats have played three less matches than the Bluebirds and two less than the Baggies. A win over Palace would land them even with the Eagles.

Sunderland 0-1 Aston Villa: Agbonlahor capitalizes on mistake as wastefulness costs Black Cats

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Lee Cattermole’s horrendous first half saw Aston Villa pounce, and the home side couldn’t find an answer as they drop deeper into relegation darkness.

Sunderland held most of the possession as the visitors played on the break, but with much of the ball they couldn’t find the answer.  Most Sunderland attacking players had at least one good chance, but nobody put it away.

The home side started very brightly, with Emmanuele Giaccherini, Steven Fletcher, and Ki Sung-Yeung all finding themselves with good chances in the first 10 minutes.

Giaccherini dragged inches wide from up front, Fletcher dragged across from a tight angle, and

Ki Dong-Wong also had himself an opportunity but a heavy touch off his chest forced a tighter angle than he would have liked and it went over.

Sunderland held 70% of the possession in the first half, but a mistake on the ball would prove costly.

source: Getty Images
Ki Sung-Yeung had the most opportunities for Sunderland, but nobody could finish as they fell at home.

Lee Cattermole, all alone with the ball at the back, took a heavy touch and Gabriel Agbonlahor pounced and beat the keeper to put Villa shockingly ahead.

The goal leaped the visitors to life, and they broke with a serious cutting edge.  Leandro Bacuna had himself a go after galloping down the wing but dragged wide.

Cattermole nearly gifted Aston Villa a second in the 28th minute, but Leandro Bacuna bailed him out with a quality last-ditch block.

On the other end, Sunderland pressed well at the end of the first half, as Ki came close to scoring on a pair of occasions.

In the second, Sunderland thought they’d gone ahead in the first five minutes but substitute Borini’s goal was ruled out for being a fraction offside. The Italian had come on for the struggling Cattermole at the halftime break.

Villa continued to play on the counter, and it resulted in plenty of Sunderland possession and goal attempts but they couldn’t break through early on.

They nearly had a second on the break though in the 70th minute, as Christian Benteke searched for his first goal since September by beating Valentin Roberge, but a clearance off the line by the head of Phil Bardsley denied him yet again.

A bit of physicality brought the match to a halt as regulation ran out, with Jack Colback retaliating for a foul by Gabriel Agbonlahor with a fierce push. Both received yellows from referee Mike Jones.

(MORE: Barclays Premier League standings)

Sunderland had an opportunity to gain ground in the relegation standings, even getting off the bottom of the table, but they fail to do so and remain a point back of West Ham.  Thankfully for Gus Poyet, the Hammers also lost and the Black Cats aren’t far out of reach still.

The win for Villa is an enormous one, bringing them to relative safety for now, up to 23 points in 11th position.

GOALS:

Aston Villa – Agbonlahor 15′

LINEUPS:

Sunderland – Mannone; Celustka, Bardsley, Diakite, Roberge (Johnson 77′); Cattermole (Borini 45′), Ki, Colback, Ji (Altidore 67′), Giaccherini; Fletcher.

Aston Villa – Guzan, Lowton, Vlaar (Albrighton 70′), Baker, Luna, Westwood, Bacuna, Weimann, Delph, Agbonlahor, Benteke.

Capital One Cup recap: Depth on display for Manchester City, Tottenham; Kevin Ball wins Sunderland debut

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Midfielder Fernandinho was the only holdover for Manuel Pellegrini. André Villas-Boas returned three. For Manchester City and Tottenham, though, it didn’t matter, with each team using Tuesday’s League Cup action to display the frightening amount of depth they’ve accrued over the summer.

Spurs’ may have been the more impressive result, coming against fellow Premier League competition, but despite the fact it took over 45 minutes to finally break through, Tottenham cruised past Aston Villa, 4-0. Jermain Defoe scored in stoppage time of each half while Paulinho (49th minute) and Nacir Chadli (85th) provided the filling as the likes of Brad Friedel, Vlad Chiriches, Ezekiel Fryers, and Harry Kane got starts at Villa Park.

At the Etihad, recently-relegated Wigan Athletic were given a harsh reminder of Premier League life in a 5-0 loss to Manchester City. Edin Dzeko opened the scoring in the 33rd minute for the Sky Blues, who also got a second half brace from Stevan Jovetic and goals off the bench from Yaya Touré and Jesús Navas. Goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon, defenders Micah Richards and Dedryk Boyata, and midfielder Marcos Lopes were all in Pellegrini’s starting XI.

It’s common for teams to rotate their squads for early League Cup matches, but the talent City and Spurs were able to field while making wholesale chances was staggering. The Citizens still had the likes of Jovetic, Dzeko, Javi Garcia, James Milner, and Joleon Lescott in their XIs. Villas-Boas had Defoe, Sandro, Lewis Holtby and Erik Lamela in his team. Given the clubs’ prodigious summer spending (and selling, in the case of Spurs), a certain amount of depth is to be expected, but when you compare today’s selections with those Arsenal, Manchester United, or Liverpool would field when making mass changes, Tottenham and City’s depth looks particularly strong.

Today, that depth helped them to League Cup routes, but over the course of the season, that depth may prove decisive in league. After their Manchester Derby win, City may have already re-established themselves as title favorites, but having so many options means they’re less likely to suffer prolonged injury or form-related slumps. There’ll be fewer chances for teams to snatch that favorite’s label, just as there’ll be less room for Arsenal slips if they hope to hold off Spurs.

source: Getty Images
Emanuele Giaccherini (left) scored the second goal of his Sunderland career on Tuesday, his first half opener proving the game-winnger against Peterborough United. (Photo: Getty Images.)

SUNDERLAND TAKE CARE OF BUSINESS POST-DI CANIO

Two days ago, Sunderland dismissed Paolo Di Canio. Now they have their first win of the season, though in all fairness, they would have likely defeated Peterborough United with the controversial Italian on the sidelines. Today’s 2-0 win was more a function of their opposition than a sign the Black Cats have turned it around.

But interim coach Kevin Ball did make a couple of noteworthy changes. Lee Cattermole got his first start of the season. Instead of going with two strikers, Jozy Altidore was alone in his return to the lineup. The team ditched the 4-2-4 for a more conventional 4-2-3-1 formation. Carlos Cuellar was also back in the team as the Black Cats adopted a much more conventional approach.

Those changes saw them up after 31 minutes when Emanuele Giaccherini scored his second goal in a Sunderland shirt. When Valentin Roberge doubled the lead in the second half, the Black Cats were assured of seeing off their third-tier opposition.

Now comes the hard part: Visits from Liverpool and Manchester United, after which the team will likely have a new boss. Whether that’s Gus Poyet, Roberto Di Matteo, or somebody else, the important thing is Sunderland’s moved on. Today’s win starts to put the Di Canio days behind them.

OTHER RESULTS

  • West Ham United 3-2 Cardiff City: Ricardo Vaz Te’s 87th winner sees off the Bluebirds.
  • Burnley 2-1 Nottingham Forest: Daniel Ings scores twice to sent the Clarets through.
  • Southampton 2-0 Bristol City: Gaston Ramirez’s 14th minute goal ends up being the game-winner.
  • Swindon Town 0-2 Chelsea: Fernando Torres, Ramires help Blues to second-straight win.
  • Watford 2-3 Norwich City: Canaries need extra time, two Gary Hooper goals to reverse a 2-0 deficit.
  • Hull City 1-0 Huddersfield Town: Nick Proschwitz’s 59th winner helps Steve Bruce avoid the upset.
  • Leicester City 2-1 Derby County:  Antony Knockaert and Daniel Drinkwater turn around Chris Martin’s 42nd minute opener.
  • Fulham 2-1 Everton: Dimitar Berbatov and Darren Bent hand Roberto Martinez his first Everton loss.

Premier League Preview: Crystal Palace vs. Sunderland

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  • Both sides have scored only a single goal in their first two fixtures
  • Sunderland’s Steven Fletcher could make his 2013-14 debut after recovering from ankle ligament damage
  • Despite both teams playing in the Premier League for numerous seasons, this will be the first meeting of the pair in this competition

Sunderland head to Selhurst Park to take on Crystal Palace on Saturday (12:30 pm ET on NBC, watch online via NBC Sports Live Extra) as two sides struggling to score goals look to secure their first victory of the season.

Palace return home to South London after suffering their second loss in as many games after Stoke City scored twice in the second half to off-set Marouane Chamakh’s 31st minute opener. The Eagles looked as if they might be on their way to three points before two defensive break-downs in a matter of four minutes saw Charlie Adam and Ryan Shawcross beat Julian Speroni to his right post to hand the Potters their first win of the season.

Sunderland earned their first point of the season last week in a 1-1 draw at Southampton. The Black Cats came away from St. Mary’s Stadium feeling lucky after managing to hang on despite the Saints having 17 attempts on goal and dominating possession (66%/34%). Paulo Di Canio’s men found themselves with an early lead when Italian international Emanuele Giaccherini (pictured) found himself unmarked in the box to nod home Seb Larsson’s corner kick. Two minutes from time the Saints’ pressure paid off as Jose Fonte headed in James Ward-Prowse’s shaped set piece to share the spoils.

Saturday’s encounter will be the first time Palace and Sunderland meet in the Premier League. The last time the two sides met in a top-flight encounter was a March 1991 fixture that Sunderland won 2-1. The Black Cats and Eagles have faced off on 10 occasions since, with Sunderland winning five of them.

Sunderland remain a side still very much searching for their identity. Bringing in 11 new players from seven different countries presents stylistic issues as well as communicative ones. Few doubt that Di Canio has recruited solid talent in Giaccherini, Jozy Altidore, Cabral and Valentin Roberge but until the group develops a cohesive understanding of their qualities and adopts a style of play to compliment those traits, points may be hard to come by – even when facing inferior opposition. The return of striker Steven Fletcher, who has been out since last March with ankle ligament damage, could be just the thing to set things straight.

For Holloway, the issue comes down to a lack of talent. It’s something that the Palace boss bemoaned before the season, after the squad’s opening day loss to Spurs and following last week’s defeat at Stoke City. The club’s lack of resources and transfer market power appear to be what’s limiting Palace and with no buzz percolating at the moment, it doesn’t seem to be something that’s going to change before the window closes on September 2nd.

That’s not to say Holloway’s squad is completely absent of talent. Chamakh proved last week that he’s still up for scoring goals, Dwight Gayle is a forward with pace, desire and the ability to change games while the holding midfield combination of Mile Jedinak and Kagisho Dikgacoi has made life quite difficult on opposing players.

See which club might break into the win column this Saturday, at 12:30 am ET live on NBC and online via NBC Sports Live Extra.

What they’re saying

Palace manager Ian Holloway: “The team hasn’t played together before especially with players like Florian Marange coming in. It’s just important we stick together and work hard as a team. . . . We’re full of optimism and hope, but we’ve got to get some players over the line before Monday.”

Sunderland manager Paulo Di Canio: [On the return of striker Steven Fletcher] “Steven will join the rest of his team-mates on the trip and then I will decide if I will play him, but he will be with the group. . . . He is an important player and joined us in full training just 10 days ago. For 25 days we were abroad during the pre-season and he couldn’t go, so it’s obvious he needs to practice. With the fitness level and the belief he has he can stay with the group and maybe have a part in the game.”

Sunderland defender John O’Shea: “It’s going to be difficult; we’re fully aware that they’ve just come up from the Championship but they’ve played quite well in their two league games so far even though they’ve not got anything from them. . . . They’ve got a manager who wants to play football the right way. We saw [in the game] against against Stoke at some stages that they can mix it and go forward quickly, but they can also pass it through midfield. There’s lots to look forward to but lots to be wary of as well.”

Prediction

If this match were being played at the Stadium of Light there’s no question Sunderland would be taking all three points. But fans saw how difficult it was for Spurs to play in Selhurst Park in opening week and we shouldn’t be surprised if a similar atmosphere presents itself this time around. Sunderland are good enough to overcome the crowd and win this match but Palace have the ability to nip a point here, and I think they get it.

Quick Six: Top Premier League storylines from weekend no. 1

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source: Reuters

1. ARSENAL’S CONJURING MEMORIES OF 2011

After Arsenal lost 8-2 at Manchester United on Aug. 28, 2011, Arsène Wegner’s hand was forced. To that point, the Gunners’ boss had been cautions about throwing his recently received Cesc Fábregas/Samir Nasri money at new players, but with his team on one point through three rounds (having been held scoreless in their first two matches), Wenger had to do something. The subsequent ‘panic buys’ of Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker have worked out well for the club.

Perhaps that’s the silver lining Arsenal fans can take out of Saturday’s match, a bitter opener that saw the Gunners lose 3-1 at The Emirates to Aston Villa. Though there’s a small number of Premier League clubs to whom Arsenal can justify losing at home, Villa is not one of them, let alone in the manner they did. Villa scored the match’s last three goals, led for the final half hour, and put more shots on net over the 90 minutes.

If they’re so inclined, Arsenal can hide behind excuses. Laurent Koscielny was sent off, leaving the team short-handed for 23 minutes, while two of Villa’s goals can be attributed to penalty kicks. Those circumstances are unlikely to be replicated next week at Fulham. Still, Wenger would be better served to summon the urgency of Aug. 2011 and throw some money at the problem.

source: Reuters2. MANCHESTER UNITED SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN OVERLOOKED

Barring a Monday night explosion from Manchester City (and with the Sky Blues hosting Newcastle, that could happen), the red side of Manchester will hold the top spot after the Premier League’s opening round. Perhaps that’s only appropriate, given the defending champions had been deprived of the spotlight in the build-up to the season. Though the Red Devils bring back a near-identical squad to the one that ran away with last year’s Premier League, none of your PST writers have them finishing in the top two.

New manager David Moyes has said his club intends on buying, hinting the squad still has weaknesses. Most people point to the midfield as its main point of need, though United’s had the same problems in midfield since Roy Keane left. They’ve still managed to claim silverware since – both at home and abroad.

Saturday was a bucket of cold water for those of us who had dwelt on that weakness. Swansea City — a team that opened last season with two lopsided wins; who drew United on their last visit to the Liberty Stadium — were torn apart by braces from Robin van Persie and Danny Welbeck. Although Swansea’s poor play contributed to that results, United’s firepower means they’ll be capable of this kind of result.

source: Reuters3. MOURINHO’S RETURN MORE ‘DECENT’ THAN ‘SPECIAL’

If we learned anything about Chelsea from match one, it’s that they had an easy start. Hull City, roundly picked to resume a place in the Championship, failed to provide a challenge. The Blues dominated for a half hour, built a 2-0 league, then clicked it into cruise. We’ll have to wait for stiffer competition before passing judgment on the Blues.

There were hints, however, of what we could expect from Mourinho’s second term, including in the way Chelsea cruised. Perhaps the team didn’t pile on goals as Mourinho’s Real Madrid might have, but team’s return to a belligerent pragmatism that won two Premier League crowns will be welcome by some. Frank Lampard, despite having a penalty kick saved, lent credence to the notion his effectiveness will be prolonged by his reunion with Mourinho, while the Blues’ three substitutes (André Schurrle, Romelu Lukaku, Marco van Ginkel) confirmed new blood will play a key part.

Hull’s limited performance never gave Chelsea a chance to truly convince, but there were still things to learn from the Special One’s return.

source: Reuters4. PROMOTED SIDES SHOW LITTLE LIFE IN TOP FLIGHT RETURNS

Hull weren’t the only promoted side to disappoint. Crystal Palace, picked 20th by so many coming into the season, were able to keep the score close, their 1-0 loss to visiting Spurs disguising the fact Tottenham controlled the game. Cardiff City, winners of last year’s Championship, fell 2-0 at West Ham United.

Underdogs in each match, it’s no surprise all three Premier League newbies lost, yet their inability is still concerning. Out-shot by a combined 59-24 (13-6, shots on goal), the trio of neophytes seem to lack a Norwich City or Southampton – two promoted sides who managed to stay up last season. While recent signings from Cardiff and Hull may soon change their teams’ outlooks (and it is far too early to condemn any of the new clubs), matchday one was a grim reminder of how far the new teams have to go.

source: Getty Images5. PENALTY KICK GRACE PRESERVES RESULTS

Liverpool’s Saturday win over Stoke recalled the good and bad of last year: strong play; at times not reflected in the score; sometimes leaving matches to be stolen by lesser teams. Thanks to Simon Mignolet’s 89th minute save on Jon Walter’s penalty kick, Daniel Sturridge’s first half opener held up, giving the Reds the 1-0 win they probably deserved.

But penalty kick grace was also evident at The Hawthorns, where West Brom nearly held on for a 0-0 with Southampton before Ricky Lambert converted in the 90th minute, giving a Saints team that had been the ever-so-slightly better side an ever-so-slightly better result. And in South London, Roberto Soldado’s early second half conversion assured Spurs a result to mirror their control.

source: Getty Images6. SUNDERLAND AS IMPRESSIVE ON GRASS AS ON PAPER

Going into Saturday’s match, the on-paper Black Cats’ didn’t look too impressive, but given the club that survived last year’s Premier League, it was easy to look at the additions of Jozy Altidore, Emmanuel Giaccherini, Cabral, Valentin Roberge, and Ondrej Celustka and see an improved team, overlooking the possibility they may still be inferior to their competition.

Saturday reinforced the notion this team’s facing significant obstacles. Against another flawed side (Fulham), the Black Cats lost at the Stadium of Light , putting only three shots on goal. They did out-shoot Fulham 21-5 and held 57 percent of the ball, but given nine of those shots came after the 52nd minute (when the Pajtim Kasami’s goal gave Fulham incentive to change their approach), Sunderland should lament the result rather than dwell on the circumstances.