Strong competition for places at Sunderland key, says skipper John O'Shea

Sunderland's Premier League fate is firmly in their own hands, insists John O'Shea.

Saturday, 20th February 2016, 6:30 am
Sunderland's John O'Shea.

And the Black Cats skipper believes the club’s chances of staying up this season have been handed a huge boost by the increased competition for places.

Sunderland, a point from safety, still have relegation rivals Norwich City and Newcastle United to play as they bid to fight the drop.

The arrival – and immediate impact – of Lamine Kone, Wahbi Khazri, Dame N’Doye and Jan Kirchhoff have bolstered Sam Allardyce’s options.

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And the four points picked up against Liverpool and Manchester United have given Sunderland fresh belief of escaping the drop.

“Ultimately, it’s down to ourselves,” said O’Shea.

“With a win you put more pressure on the other teams, but if they get a win.

“It’s down to us ultimately.

“That’s what we’ve shown in the last few weeks and with the impact the new boys have had, hopefully it improves the competition in the squad.”

O’Shea and his teammates are without a game this weekend after being knocked out of the FA Cup by holders Arsenal at the turn of the year.

They have spent this past week in the Middle East, enjoying a warm-weather training camp in Dubai ahead of their Premier League return, away to West Ham United next Saturday lunchtime.

Experienced O’Shea, who starred alongside Kone in the 2-1 win over Manchester United, says the break will help those feeling the effects of a busy start to the year to come back stronger for the run-in.

Sam Allardyce is hoping to have midfielder Seb Larsson back for the Hammers game, while Younes Kaboul is also nearing a return.

Larsson, back in full training, has been on the treatment table since November’s win over Stoke City due to a medial ligament problem in his knee.

The Swedish international had originally been expected to be sidelined for around five weeks, but the injury has proved to be far longer in healing.

O’Shea added: “This little break coming up in terms of the FA Cup, gives a chance for some of the boys to get back fit.

“There’s experienced players like Younes and Seb Larsson, who are not too far away.

“We’ll see how bad some of the injuries are we picked up against Man United.

“Getting a win before the break is so important.

“And hopefully it will give a chance for some of the knocks and bruises to recover.”

Jeremain Lens and Duncan Watmore are both likely to still be on the treatment table for Sunderland’s last ever trip to Upton Park.

Summer signing Lens has a hernia, while Watmore has ankle ligament damage and is facing several weeks out.