DICK ADVOCAAT has made it crystal clear to Sunderland’s players what he expects from them in the survival battle.
Advocaat’s opening game at the Sunderland helm culminated in a fourth defeat in six on Saturday after Diafra Sakho’s last-gasp goal denied the Black Cats a point at West Ham.
However, there were signs of hope that Advocaat can steer Sunderland to safety over the final eight games, with a notable improvement in intensity and work-rate from the last days of Gus Poyet’s reign at the Stadium of Light.
Striker Steven Fletcher – one of several who enjoyed an upturn in performance at Upton Park – has enjoyed life under Advocaat during the 67-year-old’s first week in charge and believes he is implementing the changes which Sunderland desperately needed.
Fletcher said: “The manager has provided a lift around the place.
“He’s a very animated manager, but that’s good for us. We needed a boost.
“He’s brought that in training too.
“What he’s like on the side of the pitch is what he’s like in training every day.
“He gets the players running, chasing it down which is good for us.
“We’re winning the ball back again and creating chances, which we needed to do. It’s very structural. We know where we stand.
“With eight games left, we’ve got a big chance. The results went our way on Saturday and it’s still in our own hands.
“He knows what he needs to do and we know what we need to do. He’s told us that from day one.
“The minute he came in, you could tell what he wanted and the boys are adapting to it, which is good.
“Every manager has their own methods, so it’s a different training session to what we’ve been used to.
“But it’s good. We’re enjoying it.”
Sunderland had been on course for a share of the spoils in an ugly, scrappy, evenly-poised encounter before Sakho’s 88th minute winner - a goal that should have been ruled out after referee Lee Mason failed to spot a clear foul on Seb Larsson in the build-up.
Until that point, West Ham had struggled to muster an attacking threat, with Sunderland enjoying by far the best chance of the encounter, only for ex-Hammer Jermain Defoe to produce an awful first half miss.
“It was a tough way to lose the game,” added Fletcher.
“I think everybody thought it was a free-kick, but the luck is not going our way just now. These things happen.
“But performance-wise, I thought we did really well and deserved a point.
“You would have put money on Jermain taking a chance like that.
“I think he had it in his mind to side-foot it and when you’ve got something in your mind, you’re going to do it.
“Hopefully we can keep creating chances and taking them as well.”