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Everton at Sunderland: Q&A with Roker Report

Everton travel to Sunderland, with both teams needing a win desperately.

Clive Brunskill

We chatted with Michael Graham, the manager over at our fellow SB Nation site Roker Report. He spoke about Sunderland's chances of survival as well as the game on Saturday against Everton.

RBM - The last time we met, the fans were satisfied with Gus Poyet for the most part. How does the fanbase feel now as the season is winding to a close?

RR - Enthusiasm towards Poyet has definitely cooled of late. He has been making some very strange and erratic decisions and many of his media comments have carried the hallmarks of a man struggling to pick himself up, never mind a whole club. That said, I don't think he should be written off for a while yet. A failure to commit to a manager is a large part of what has landed us in this mess. Far larger, I'd say, than the respective quality of the recent managers.

I think Poyet is the kind of character who plays much better with his own people. This summer he'll get the chance to build a squad pretty much from the ground up in whatever image he wants. Is it a fault of his that he struggles to believe in another man's squad? Yes, absolutely it is. However, let's not pretend there is a perfect manager out there for Sunderland. We've been chasing that spectre for far too long, and it's led us to the Championship.

RBM - Sunderland are bottom right now, though they do have two games in hand. What do their last few games look like? Can they pull off the escape act?

RR - I wouldn't have thought so, no. I hope we can, but I think you have to be a realist. Teams who escape relegation are the ones who peak at the right time, and that's not Sunderland. There is no margin for error now, and error is something in which Sunderland traditionally specialise.

RBM - The Black Cats were pretty stealthy in both Cup competitions, making the League Cup final and the quarters in the FA Cup. How come that success has not translated to the Premier League?

RR - That's a good question and one which has prompted debate amongst our support all season. I can't give you any definitive answers here but I'm more than happy to offer my own opinion.

Essentially, this set of Sunderland players has no discernible mental strength. I don't think you can look at players like Vito Mannone, Ki Sung-Yeung, Fabio Borini, Adam Johnson, John O'Shea, Wes Brown etc and say there is a lack of quality. That's not the problem at all. The issue is that they are unable to withstand pressure. All any team customarily has to do to beat Sunderland is produce one spell of sustained pressure and they'll fold.

In the cups, the pressure was gone. There was nothing to lose and nothing to fear, and you saw the quality emerge. At the end of the day, they just don't have the stones for the fight and it's not something unique to this season. Paolo Di Canio was mental, but he told the world about Sunderland's engrained spinelessness at the end of last season. He couldn't fix it - or wasn't given time to, depending on your perspective - but he knew the problem. Strangely enough, popular opinion accredits Sunderland's season to too many changes last summer. Personally, I'd suggest there were not enough changes as the same old problems remained.

RBM - We heard about a couple of promising players in the youth setup - Alejandro Gorrin, Duncan Watmore, Mikael Mandron. How have they developed? Any other kids coming up in the system?

RR - Duncan Watmore is out on-loan in the Scottish Premier League and impressing. I think he has a chance. The rest you mention have been held in a bit of a holding pattern and remain something of a mystery. Gorrin may just be a Poyet kind of player, and next season it's likely more youngsters will get the opportunity.

The two I really like are Charis Mavrias and El-Hadji Ba, who definitely isn't a football manager regen, I promise. Both were signed in the summer and both should start getting more chances now. We caught a glimpse of both - along with Watmore - in the early stages of the FA Cup and all three of the caught the eye.

RBM - Who are the players that have been in form for Sunderland in the last few weeks?

RR - I'd say that Adam Johnson is the only attacking player in form, though Lee Cattermole has been a true warrior of late. He is far from perfect, but he has considerably more quality on the ball than most realise and since Liam Bridcutt's arrival he has been getting forward more. He isn't ever going to be a consistent matchwinning flair player, of course. What he is, though, is a very good player, and one who will be one of the first to attract interest this summer.

RBM - Sunderland pulled off a massive upset beating Everton at Goodison Park on Boxing Day. What scoreline would you predict for Saturday's game?

RR - I think Sunderland can win. I don't think they will. When you're short on goals and have to attack, the last thing you want to see rolling into town is a side who counter attack with the precision that Everton do. First goal will be key here. If Sunderland get it, there is a chance of another upset. I suspect Everton will get it, though, and then pick us off on the counter at their leisure. I'll go for Sunderland 0-2 Everton.