Cattermole: Squad sticking together
Captain Lee Cattermole is convinced Sunderland have the quality to turn their season around despite a demoralising home defeat by Aston Villa.
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Gabriel Agbonlahor's second-half strike at the Stadium of Light ensured a 1-0 defeat which extended the Black Cats' miserable run in the Barclays Premier League to just a single win in 17 attempts as they slipped to 16th place in the table.
Cattermole and his team-mates left the pitch to muted booing from sections of a home crowd growing increasingly restless with a series of insipid displays which have taken something of the gloss off manager Martin O'Neill's reign to date.
However, the 24-year-old said: "As a team, we are absolutely devastated, but we are definitely sticking together.
"It's as good a dressing room as I have ever been in with the lads, and we are not going to start arguing.
"There are going to be points that need to be made, but that's football. No-one is happy to be losing games, but hopefully we are going to win more than we lose this year."
Sunderland fans have to go back to September 29 for the club's last win, a 1-0 defeat of Wigan on Wearside secured by the last of £12million striker Steven Fletcher's five goals for his new club.
Perhaps more worryingly, the Scotland international remains the only Sunderland player to have registered in the league so far this season, and neither he nor any of his colleagues have managed to find the back of the net in eight hours and nine minutes of football in all competitions since.
Indeed, the joke circulating on neighbouring Tyneside is that Newcastle's Demba Ba, whose own goal spared Sunderland's derby blushes on October 21, is currently the club's second top league scorer.
Cattermole, who came close to addressing that record with a 30th-minute shot which flew just too high over Brad Guzan's bar, admits a lack of creativity has proved costly, but is confident the solution lies within the dressing room.
He said: "I'm not a massive believer in stats, to be honest with you, but there's no hiding from that, we haven't had enough chances.
"But it's something we are working on, and we believe in the team we have. There is too much quality in that dressing room for us not to turn this around.
"Before Saturday, we had only been beaten at Manchester City. A lot of pressure was put on the team due to the fact that we were not scoring goals, but we were still picking up points.
"We have just got to keep working hard, keep moving on and the quality is going to come through in the end."
The statistics show Saturday's defeat was just Sunderland's second in the league so far this season, but coming on the back of Tuesday night's tame Capital One Cup exit at the hands of npower Championship Middlesbrough, it was cause for further consternation.
O'Neill's men started brightly enough and had the ball in the net with just five minutes gone when Fletcher converted Stephane Sessegnon's through-ball, although from an offside position.
But from that point on, it was Villa who enjoyed the better of the first half with Barry Bannan and full debutant Ashley Westwood dominating in central midfield and Christian Benteke and Agbonlahor causing all kinds of problems with their complementary blend of power, pace and movement.
They had to wait until 12 minutes after the break to get their noses in front when Benteke headed down Matt Lowton's cross for Agbonlahor to volley home from close range, and although the home side rallied - substitutes Louis Saha and Fraizer Campbell both sent headers just off target amid a late flurry - the points were safe.
Significantly, Guzan did not have a single save of note to make until Cattermole, whose individual performance was one of few bright spots for the home side, tested him with an 84th-minute strike from distance.
For Villa boss Paul Lambert, there was the prospect of better things after a difficult start to the season.
He said: "You hope so, you certainly hope so. There have been games where we have played really well and just maybe not got the break.
"But on Saturday, we deserved to win the game."
Lambert was particularly pleased with the contribution of 22-year-old former Crewe trainee Westwood.
He said: "He was absolutely outstanding. For somebody who made his debut having come from Crewe and played some reserve games for Aston Villa, I thought he was outstanding.
"He's got a great art of not giving it away, and he looks really easy and comfortable with it. He and Barry Bannan were exceptional."