Striker opens up on Sunderland's set-piece woes and admits team have left themselves a '˜mountain to climb'
Sunderland are an improved team but now, more than ever, it looks as if they will soon become a League One side.
In the last four Championship games they have finally shown that they can compete at this level, that they do have the individual quality and drive to produce results.
Not spectacular results, but results enough to keep them in the second tier.
It looks too late, though, and so Ashley Fletcher knows that while talk of improvement and positives is valid to an extent, it feels hollow when the gap is six points with four to play.
“Our last three or four games, there has been an upturn in results and performances and I don’t think anyone could accuse us of giving up,” said the on-loan Middlesbrough striker.
“We’ve put everything on the pitch, but it hasn’t happened for us.
“That’s the frustration, the last four games, if we play like that all season you’re looking up the table rather than down it.
“But, at the end of the day, time is running out. All we can do is keeping putting in the performances and hope that it turns. “
Fletcher knows too that Sunderland’s 1-1 draw with Norwich on Tuesday night was self-inflicted.
It was yet another set-piece goal conceded, a floated free-kick not attacked, a second ball not won, as visiting defender Ivo Pinto had time to drill home an 89th-minute equaliser.
Not for the first time this season, an opposition player found themselves unmarked with the goal gaping and had team-mates queuing up behind him.
“We didn’t play as well as we have done in the last couple of days, but to get in front (and not win), it’s just a lack of discipline with their goal which is so frustrating,” Fletcher said.
“We’re gutted, to be honest.
Sign up to our daily newsletter
“It is just basic marking really. It comes down to knowing your man and marking.
“There’s two people spare and either of them could have finished it off – it was just a lack of discipline.
“We’ve all mentioned how many goals we concede from set-pieces, it is something we work on, but there’s got to be more done.
“Time is running out and if we keep conceding like we have done then it is not going to happen.”
Fletcher himself has looked far more at ease leading the Sunderland line of late, winning the penalty that Aiden McGeady could only strike against the Canaries’ post.
The 22-year-old was crestfallen after Pinto’s late leveller, but said his team must heed manager Chris Coleman’s words and stay in the race against Reading this weekend.
He said: “We know how big a mountain it is to climb.
“Coming in and seeing the other results, it just added insult to injury.
“We felt we were unlucky not to get three points against Leeds and we were minutes away here (on Tuesday). It’s hugely frustrating.
“The manager came in at the end and just said that somehow, we have to keep believing.
“We know it sounds daft, but we have to see it is a point gained, but obviously we know the games are running out.”