Black Cats' spirit fires safety fight

Sbragia praises team as Sunderland boost chances of Premier League survival
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The Independent Football

The Sunderland manager, Ricky Sbragia, insists he is happy with the squad at his disposal after they boosted their Premier League survival hopes with victory over Hull at the weekend. The Black Cats eased into 15th place as a result of Saturday's 1-0 win and, while they remain only four points clear of the drop zone, their position looks a little less precarious with a trip to rock-bottom West Bromwich to come this weekend.

Sbragia, who succeeded Roy Keane at the Stadium of Light in December, recently appeared to question the depth and quality of his squad after they slipped dangerously close to the bottom three.

However, he insists that, with all his players fit, he has a good group from which to choose. "I felt the squad I had at Christmas time was a good squad to have around," Sbragia said. "There is good team spirit within the squad, they are a good group, they do work hard. Sometimes, we could just do with a bit of luck in games, and at vital times we have switched off and been punished. There have been games we have played where we have not done it the other way around – teams have switched off and we have not punished them. I am happy with the squad, I am happy with the players I have got."

Sunderland's descent towards the relegation zone – the win over Hull was only their second in 10 league games – led to a growing disquiet on Wearside following an investment of more than £70m by Keane during his 26 months in charge.

Sbragia was appointed days before the winter transfer window opened and, having had little opportunity to run the rule over potential permanent signings, opted to recruit only Tal Ben Haim and Calum Davenport on loan deals.

The manager's own position has been called into question in recent weeks, forcing his chairman, Niall Quinn, to dismiss speculation that another manager – Alan Curbishley was one name mentioned in dispatches – was being lined up to replace him.

Now, with Quinn's endorsement ringing in his ears, Sbragia will set about the task of securing the club's top-flight status, before turning his attention to strengthening the squad he inherited from Keane.

The situation of Sunderland's leading scorer Djibril Cissé, who is on a season's loan from Marseilles, is one which will need to be resolved quickly, but the manager does not see the need for wholesale change.

"When we have injuries, it might knock us a little bit," Sbragia said. "I would prefer to have all the squad on the playing field but it's not going to happen. But I am really pleased with them and I am happy with what I have got in general.

"We can always improve, we know that, but the bunch we have got, they are a good bunch. The team spirit is decent in the dressing room, they do work hard and that's all I can ask for."

At fellow strugglers Blackburn Rovers, the striker Jason Roberts does not believe he will be fit in time for Sunday's visit of his former club Wigan. The 31-year-old was sidelined by a stress fracture of his foot a fortnight ago and was expected to be out for at least three weeks. Rovers' manager, Sam Allardyce, is keen to get at least one of his injured strikers – Roque Santa Cruz is also out after a minor knee operation – back for the relegation run-in.But Roberts believes it is unlikely he will be ready to face the Latics at Ewood Park, although the club may be prepared to take a risk because of their precarious position three points above the drop zone.

"The injury is a strange one because if you have a broken bone then you know exactly how long you are going to be out for," Roberts said. "However, with a stress fracture you can't be sure as it isn't as straightforward, so you have to be careful in case it happens again and you have a setback. It is doubtful I will be ready for next week."