OFF-THE-MARK Danny Graham hopes his Sunderland career has now finally taken off – two-and-a-half years after arriving at the Stadium of Light.
At the 28th time of asking, Graham broke his Sunderland duck in Saturday’s huge win at Everton, as the Black Cats moved out of the relegation zone and two points clear of danger.
It’s been some renaissance for Graham, who was hawked around by Sunderland with a £1m price tag last summer – £4m less than the club paid for him in January 2013 – before being sent out on loan to Wolves in November following stints at Middlesbrough and Hull last season.
Since being handed a second opportunity at the Stadium of Light, Graham has shown a dogged determination to make the grade, with the 29-year-old coming to the fore over the last three games.
But Graham admitted there was still plenty of relief at getting that elusive first Sunderland goal, even if it came in fortuitous fashion after Jordi Gomez’s shot flicked off his heels to deceive Everton stopper Tim Howard.
Graham said: “It was a bit surreal to be honest, the way it went in.
“I don’t know how it managed to spin like that and go in off the far post.
“But I’m delighted to get that first goal and hopefully I can kick on now.
“I’ve said before that I’m probably the fittest and sharpest I’ve been since I’ve been at the club. I have to thank the medical staff with the gym work and stuff.
“Hopefully this can kick-start my Sunderland career.
“I’ve said before that it’s been a tough couple of years, I can’t hide from that.
“But I’ve been playing well in the last couple of weeks and helped to win the two penalties against Southampton.
“The gaffer kept his faith in me and kept me up there.
“I’m delighted to get the goal obviously, even though there was a big slice of luck. I’ll take that though!”
Sunderland’s first back-to-back Premier League win of the season owed as much to the Black Cats’ grit, as it did to the quality of their performance.
Everton monopolised possession, yet Sunderland were dogged defensively and benefited from two slices of luck in the goals for both Graham and Jermain Defoe.
But Graham believes the 2-0 win epitomised the determination in Sunderland’s ranks to avoid the drop, with victory against in-form Leicester City next Saturday potentially being sufficient to guarantee survival.
“The fans have seen us in a relegation battle again, which when you look around the dressing room, shouldn’t be happening,” he added.
“But the last few performances, everyone can hold their head up high.
“We’ve had our backs against the wall, but everyone has stood up like real men to put in performances for us.
“Believe me, this group of players are together, we’ve never let our heads go down, even though we’ve had some tough games.
“We went to Stoke got a point, beat Southampton got three points and now gone to Everton and got three points.
“We know we’ve still got a lot of hard work, but we’ve put pressure on the other teams who we’ve gone above.
“We’ve done our jobs and now all our focus is on Leicester.
“Hopefully we can pick up another three points and get the job done.”