Sunderland manager Steve Bruce has challenged his players to adopt a ruthless approach as they attempt to build on an impressive start to the season. Monday night's 2-2 draw with Everton left the Black Cats a point clear in seventh place in the Premier League table and just two behind Tottenham Hotspur in sixth as they head into a run of fixtures which they hope will be less testing than the bulk of their opening 14.
Sunderland have now played every member of last season's top 10 and lost to none of them, a sequence which includes victories over Manchester City, Aston Villa and Chelsea and creditable draws against Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham. Indeed, the only blots on their copybook came at West Bromwich and, in spectacular style, Newcastle.
If there is a frustration, it is that the Black Cats have won only four times, although Bruce admits that, overall, they have fared better than they might have done to date. However, with Wolves, West Ham, Fulham, Bolton, Blackpool and Blackburn among their next seven opponents, he knows now is the time to make a real push.
Asked whether the club was ahead of schedule, he replied: "Yes, of course we are ahead. But we have got a couple of games now where it is the other way with the expectation. This club in its history hasn't been able to deal with the expectation.
"We have now got back-to-back games against teams at the wrong end of the Premier League. We have played now, with 14 games gone, the top 10 of last year and haven't been beaten by any of them.
"I think we have made progress. Twenty points could quite easily have been 25, but then again, could have been 15. That's the way it is this year, but we will keep plodding along. We are seeing good things."
Bruce's caution is perhaps understandable after last season's mid-term slump, which saw his side go 14 league games without a victory. However, they could have been heading for Wolves on Saturday in an even better position had Mikel Arteta not snatched two points from their grasp on Monday night.
The Spaniard's late equaliser, which was deflected past Sunderland's goalkeeper Craig Gordon by Phil Bardsley, secured a deserved draw for Everton in a dramatic conclusion to a pulsating encounter.
Tim Cahill had headed the visitors into a sixth-minute lead with his seemingly obligatory goal against the Black Cats, but Danny Welbeck levelled with 23 minutes gone and then headed the home side in front with 19 minutes remaining. Arteta was to have the final say, although both Welbeck and the Everton substitute Jermaine Beckford both passed up glorious opportunities to win the game in stoppage time.
The Manchester United teenager, on loan at the Stadium of Light for the season, later insisted his shot had been deflected wide, and pleaded in vain for a corner after the referee Peter Walton awarded a goal-kick. Welbeck said: "At the time, I touched it and thought, 'I'm going to bang this', but it actually deflected off the defender in front of me, which took it wide, but the referee gave a goal-kick. I saw the replay and Andy Gray said I could have looked behind me and Darren Bent was there. But at the time, that was never going through my head."
Everton left Wearside knowing they could have been doing so with all three points had Beckford hit the target at the death, but marvelling once again at Cahill's ability to find space in crowded penalty areas after he had also had two efforts cleared off the line.
Their assistant manager, Steve Round, said: "He's terrific at it, that's what he does. He has done it all his life in the Premier League and is a regular goalscorer because of that, because he has great movement.
"He had two cleared off the line and scored the goal. The way Tim is playing at the minute, we are almost playing him as a centre-forward who drops in off the front, rather than a midfield player who runs from deep because he is such a goal threat."Reuse content