Out-of-form Cats hold talks to clear the air
LEE Cattermole is predicting a "different Sunderland" will face West Brom on Saturday following two frank clear-the-air meetings in the wake of last weekend's mauling at Manchester City. The Black Cats will entertain Roy Hodgson's in-form Baggies looking to end a wretched run that has seen them fail to win any of their last seven games. The sequence has plunged Sunderland to within six points of the relegation zone with seven matches remaining. Sunday's performance was the worst of the lot, and in an attempt to prevent a repeat in two days time, Cattermole has presided over a pair of discussions in which every member of the squad was invited to air their grievances. The finer details of what was said are being kept behind closed doors, but the upshot is a shared commitment to draw a line under recent events and produce a spirited display this weekend. "We've had a sit down in the last few days, aired a few home truths, and I think a lot of positives have come out of that," said the Sunderland skipper. "We've all got a few things off our chest and had a good chat about what's been going wrong recently. "Then we've come in to training (yesterday) and everyone's had a smile on their face. I feel like we've put a lot of things to bed and can move forward into the last seven games. "I don't think we need to get back to basics, but I do think we have to get back to what we were doing well in the first half of the season. We're all on the same page, and I'm sure you'll see a different Sunderland on Saturday." A variety of factors have been proposed as the cause of Sunderland's malaise, from the departure of leading goalscorer Darren Bent to the injury crisis that has robbed Steve Bruce of the likes of Cattermole, Michael Turner, Danny Welbeck and Fraizer Campbell for large chunks of the campaign. Some supporters have used social networking platforms to question the performance of Bruce, highlighting the extent of the manager's expenditure in the last four transfer windows and questioning whether sufficient progress has been made as a result. Cattermole understands the fans' frustrations, but cannot believe that Bruce is being criticised for the result slump. "Everywhere the manager has been, he's been successful," he said. "He's been rewarded with a new contract this season, and I see how hungry and driven he is as a manager every day. "We saw the way he reacted after the game on Sunday and you don't want to cross him, put it like that. He expects his players to be as determined as he is, and I think maybe we've got away from what we were doing so well as a team in the first half of the season. "We've progressed well this season, but we've had a bad run of games. The manager has been magnificent though, and he's spent this week telling the lads what he wants and expects from us. "It's up to us to put things right on the pitch. There's only us to blame. It's got nothing to do with him, nothing has changed behind the scenes, it's just that performances on the pitch have dipped. The gaffer's been brilliant and you have these runs in sometimes don't you" Cattermole's absence has been particularly keenly felt since the turn of the year, with the Stockton-born midfielder suffering a back injury that has taken the best part of three months to heal. At one stage, it was feared he would miss the rest of the season, but while the problem has successfully cleared, his fitness levels have dipped considerably as a result of his lay off. "I don't think I'll be back to my best until next season now," admitted Cattermole. "I've had three months off and had total rest for nine weeks - you don't even get that in the summer, and then you have six or seven weeks to get yourself back fit. "My fitness is a bit of a worry, but it's something I have to deal with and I'm willing to put in the extra sessions to try to get myself back fit. But I honestly don't think I'll be as fit as I would like to be until the start of next season." n Sunderland defender Louis Laing has been named in the England Under-18 squad to face Italy on Tuesday, April 12. Meanwhile, with his contract due to expire in the summer, Nathan Luscombe has been given permission to attend a trial with Hereford United.
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