Dick Advocaat tells Sunderland players to stay calm as pressure mounts

Sunderland manager Dick Advocaat.
Sunderland manager Dick Advocaat.

Dick Advocaat’s message to his players on the training ground at the start of this week could easily have involved the hairdryer treatment.

Sunderland’s winless start to the season extended to seven games at Manchester United, they remained bottom of the table and had managed the dubious achievement of conceding two goals within an 80-second period either side of half-time.

The boys are still upbeat about the place and we need to stay that way

Steven Fletcher

But Advocaat avoided any rants.

Instead, the 68-year-old stressed to his players the importance of relaxing; to play their natural game and ensure they weren’t shackled by pressure when they run out against West Ham this weekend.

Advocaat is under no illusions about the magnitude of Saturday’s clash, as Sunderland search for their maiden Premier League win prior to the international break.

It’s potentially a defining moment in the club’s hopes of remaining in the top flight.

But with the pressure mounting, Advocaat is desperate to avoid his players being overwhelmed by the urgent need to record three points.

“We always have a talk before training at the start of the week and he just said we need to relax,” said striker Steven Fletcher.

“We can’t let it get to us on the pitch.

“You can see that ability in training, but we need to take into the weekend as well.

“We need to start winning games, everybody realises that.

“If we don’t do that, then we’ll find ourselves falling away.

“But the boys are still upbeat about the place and we need to stay that way.

“If we can get a win before the international break, it would be good for us to go away and have that under our belts.”

Advocaat did concede though after the 3-0 defeat at Old Trafford that he was considering changing Sunderland’s formation from his favoured 4-3-3.

While Sunderland have looked more of a goal-threat in that set-up, their defensive record has been appalling, with the Black Cats conceding an average of more than two goals per game.

“Yes, the gaffer is working on different things and I know he’s mentioned it,” said a coy Fletcher.

“But we’ll just have to wait and see if he does that on Saturday.”

Fletcher – introduced at half-time at Old Trafford for the ineffective Adam Johnson – could be one of those to benefit if Advocaat does change his set-up.

Advocaat has spoken of his concerns about using Fabio Borini or Jermain Defoe as a lone striker, with Fletcher offering a more traditional targetman option up front.

Fletcher added: “Hopefully I can get in the starting XI and get my season underway.

“Everyone’s saying we need to get that win, and hopefully it can come this weekend.”