sport

Mannone sends rallying call

Sunderland keeper Vito Mannone has ordered his team-mates to take responsibility for the club's current plight.

Norwich's visit to the Stadium of Light on Saturday heralded the start of a run of home fixtures which, on paper at least, looked less taxing than what had gone before and represented an opportunity for the Black Cats to start the long climb to Barclays Premier League safety.

However, at the end of a dispiriting 90 minutes, Gus Poyet's men could only muster a 0-0 draw which left them still marooned at the foot of the table and with their fans fearing the worst.

Mannone was acutely aware of the missed opportunity, which came despite his best efforts as he claimed his third clean sheet in five league games, but that was a source of little consolation.

The 25-year-old Italian said: "We are all in the same ship. I try my best to keep the team in the game, but at the end of the game, I'm a loser because we didn't win. It's a draw, but it feels like a big loss, so I am taking it as well.

"I am taking responsibility, I am on the pitch. We all have to take responsibility and do better for ourselves because we have to realise that it's our life.

"If I am going down, I am going down and the team-mate next to me is going down, so we all are."

The bare facts do not make for pleasant reading: Capital One Cup semi-finalists Sunderland have won only two league games to date this season, against high-flying Newcastle and Manchester City, and have collected three points on only four occasions in their last 34 Premier League encounters.

Worryingly, by the same stage of the 2002-03 campaign, at the end of which they were relegated with just 19 points, they had 14. Their current tally is 10.

They now face difficult away trips to Everton and Cardiff over the festive period knowing time is fast running out if they are not be cast hopelessly adrift.

Mannone said: "It's the mentality, it's where a team has to be together to come out of this situation. You don't come out by winning against Manchester City and Newcastle, even if you cheer a lot.

"These are the games for us. We are battling with these teams and we didn't show at home that we wanted to win the game so much."

If anything, the Canaries enjoyed the better chances during the opening 45 minutes with Nathan Redmond and Gary Hooper both calling Mannone into action from distance.

For their part, the home side did not create an opening of note until eight minutes before the break when full-back Phil Bardsley tested keeper John Ruddy with a long-rang strike.

Sunderland stepped up a gear after the restart with Wes Brown heading against the outside of the post and Ki Sung-yueng floating a shot wastefully over the bar after Ruddy had gone absent without leave.

But in the meantime, substitute Ricky van Wolfswinkel had passed up a glorious opportunity to win it for the visitors, and a miserable day was complete in injury time when defender Wes Brown was sent off for a crude challenge on van Wolfswinkel which will rule him out of the holiday programme.

Norwich boss Chris Hughton was understandably more content with a result which took the club to 19 points and the relative comfort of lower mid-table.

He said: "We have picked up a bit of momentum. Probably what has pleased me more than anything is we have had a couple of big defeats, albeit to the Champions League teams - and I am including Liverpool in that, Liverpool and Manchester City - and on both occasions, we have responded really well, so that certainly shows character in the team and in the squad.

"We have also been tested of late. We have gone through a period where we have picked up some big injuries - at one stage, we had three wide players out of the squad - and we have adjusted to that quite well."