Sunderland skipper John O’Shea has urged his team-mates to take the positives from the 2-0 defeat to Liverpool after pushing the title-challengers all the way.
Jurgen Klopp’s side dominated the possession, but it took them until 15 minutes from the end to break down a stubborn, resilient and well-organised Sunderland.
O’Shea, marshalling the defence after returning in place of the suspended Papy Djilobodji, says the performance shows how far the team has come in recent weeks.
Sunderland had one foot in the Championship after a dismal start to the campaign, going 10 games without a win.
But back to back wins over Bournemouth and Hull City have narrowed the gap at the foot of the table, with Sunderland still just three points from safety despite defeat to Liverpool.
The Black Cats have gone bottom again after Swansea City’s remarkable 5-4 win over Crystal Palace. But experienced O’Shea believes Sunderland’s renewed confidence shouldn’t be shaken by the defeat at Anfield.
“We have the ability to score goals and get clean sheets.
“Combine those two things, we are very close,” said O’Shea.
“Another day and we could have been coming away from Anfield with a clean sheet and a point.
“It is very positive, from that point of view.
“The team and the players have grown and the players that have arrived in the summer have now settled in; Victor [Anichebe], Didier [Ndong] and Jason [Denayer].
“You see them all grow. Duncan [Watmore], Lynden Gooch and Jordan [Pickford] are all coming on. There are plenty of positives.”
Liverpool, a point behind league leaders Chelsea, were frustrated by Sunderland’s defensive display until sub Divock Origi’s opener, with James Milner adding a late penalty.
O’Shea insists spirits remain high despite the ninth defeat of the campaign.
“Yeah, without a doubt,” said O’Shea, when asked if he’d seen enough that this Sunderland side can get out of trouble.
“The manager had spoken beforehand saying we will have to defend in numbers at times, but we are also going to cause them problems on the counter-attack.
“Especially in the first half, a couple of bounces of the ball and we could have been clean through on goal again.
“We know Jermain can catch defences out and Duncan had that chance too, those are the chances you want away from home.
“We know you will be limited with the number of chances created away from home.
“There was a better feeling afterwards, but, ultimately, it was another defeat.”
Sunderland were on the back foot for much of the game, but they did have chances on the counter-attack, Steven Pienaar and Watmore both failing to score.
Watmore’s chance came off the back of the best Sunderland move of the match; with Patrick van Aanholt cutting inside and laying the ball off to Victor Anichebe, who played Watmore in.
The England Under-21 international’s touch was heavy, though, with Reds keeper Loris Karius out quickly to snuff out the danger, with Liverpool eventually clearing the ball.
O’Shea added: “Just before they did score, we had the best chance of the game.
“It was a great bit of play for us. Patrick played it in for Victor, he laid it off and Dunc, on another day he would probably just slot that away.
“The keeper got out well. That is the chance you need away from home. We were surviving. Pickers was making saves, we were getting bodies in the way.
“The midfielders and defenders getting legs and blocks in the way. We knew we had to do that.
“Other teams have come here and played more open and found themselves three or four goals down.
“We didn’t want that to happen. It was going to plan, up until the goal.”