SEB Larsson says Sunderland must brush aside defeat at Old Trafford, and maintain their solid record against the Premier League’s bottom half next weekend.
Sunderland were immediately brought down to earth from their crucial victory over Reading, when they succumbed to a 3-1 loss at Manchester United on Saturday, to remain just a point above the bottom three.
Larsson admits Sunderland’s hopes of victory against the league leaders were slim compared to next Saturday’s crunch trip to fourth bottom Southampton – the Black Cats’ only meeting with a side outside the top 10 over the festive programme.
Martin O’Neill’s men have lost to just one side in the bottom half this season – November’s defeat to Aston Villa – with two of their three victories coming against sides in the drop zone.
And Larsson knows Sunderland’s fate against their relegation-threatened peers will ultimately decide whether the Wearsiders can vanquish their drop worries.
The Swedish midfielder told the Gazette: “Next weekend is as big as Reading.
“Although we would have loved to got something from the game on Saturday, it wasn’t really pinpointed as a three-pointer.
“But next week will be different. The games against the teams around us are going to be the big ones now.
“We’ve got to remember what we did against Reading, and take the positives from the second half on Saturday.
“We managed to get three points against Reading, and hopefully we can do the same against Southampton.
“If we play to some of the levels we’ve shown lately, we’ll be all right.
“You just need a couple of results in these games, and you fly up the league.
“It’s about getting the points, and we’ve got to fight hard to get those.”
Sunderland produced a spirited late charge at Old Trafford where they threatened to produce an unlikely comeback after United had raced into a three-goal lead inside an hour.
But as against Chelsea seven days earlier, Sunderland were ultimately undone by their own slack defending, with United securing an unassailable lead before Fraizer Campbell’s first goal since February put the Black Cats on the scoresheet.
“You can’t play catch up against teams like Chelsea and Man United,” said Larsson.
“United were definitely the better team, we under-performed in the first half and conceded two very sloppy goals.
“You can’t come to a place like Old Trafford and do that.
“I know they had a few chances, but they didn’t have to do too much to score the two goals.
“I’m not pointing fingers at anyone in particular, but collectively as a team, there’s been a few of us making mistakes for sloppy goals.
“You can’t afford that, especially at United.
“Of course, United are going to create chances.
“But the first two goals we should have avoided and I suppose you could say we should have avoided the third one as well.
“We tried to fight hard in the second half and probably should have had another goal ourselves.
“But you can’t come back from 3-0 down to United away, it’s too hard.”