Rose issues Sunderland warning
Sunderland defender Danny Rose has warned his team-mates things will only get tougher as they attempt to relaunch their season.
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The Black Cats head for Norwich on Sunday having won just two of their last 21 Premier League games, a run which saw them slip into 16th place as a result of the midweek round of fixtures.
But with Chelsea due at the Stadium of Light on December 8 and then a trip to Manchester United to come before champions Manchester City and then Tottenham visit Wearside in the space of four days over Christmas, Rose knows picking up points as 2012 draws to a close will be intensely difficult.
He said: "It's not just Norwich, all the games are important. We have got a very, very, very difficult month.
"We have got Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United and Spurs - they are four games that at the minute, I know there won't be many people who think we will get anything out of those games, so Sunday is a massive game and we are going to have to do everything we can to get three points."
In the circumstances, the trip to Carrow Road and the rearranged home clash with Reading - the initial game was postponed in August because of a waterlogged pitch - represent perhaps Sunderland's best chances of easing themselves up to the table and preventing a repeat of last season's upheaval.
It was at a similar stage of the campaign that Steve Bruce's reign came to an end - he was relieved of his duties on November 30 - to open the door for Martin O'Neill to be cast in the role of messiah.
However, an initial burst of seven wins and a draw in his first 10 league games has since given way to a depressingly familiar pattern.
The club's 27 Premier League fixtures since have yielded only four wins, and he will celebrate 12 months at the helm on Thursday with questions being asked in some quarters despite the club rubbishing rumours that he offered his resignation after last Saturday's 4-2 home defeat by West Brom.
O'Neill was allowed to invest heavily during the summer - he spent £22million of owner and chairman Ellis Short's money on striker Steven Fletcher and winger Adam Johnson.
Fletcher's six goals and general play have gone a good deal of the way towards justifying his £12million fee, but England international Johnson is yet to rediscover his best form on a consistent basis after a miserable spell of under-employment as his time at Manchester City drew to a close.
However, Rose, who joined the Black Cats on a season-long loan deal from Tottenham, has been another plus, and his willingness to get forward from left-back helped to win him the Man of the Match award against QPR.
He said: "Full-backs now in the modern game do attack a lot and try to provide goalscoring opportunities for the strikers and midfielders, and I'd like to think I do that for the team.
"Maybe you would like a midfielder or striker to be getting Man of the Match, but I'm not complaining, I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing."
Sunderland, however, need to drastically change what they are doing if they are to drag themselves up the table with Newcastle boss Alan Pardew, whose side are two places and a point better off, this week claiming they are in danger of being dragged into a relegation battle.
O'Neill said: "I came here last season and the morning that we played against Blackburn, we were in the bottom three.
"I had been asked the question the previous day, 'Do you think you are in a relegation battle?' Well, of course.
"It's tough, it's tough for quite a number of teams. It's a surprise, I suppose, that you find Newcastle, with the season that they had last year, in that position.
"It's not monumentally surprising for a lot of clubs like ourselves."