Reward for Sbragia's merry men

Ricky Sbragia feels Sunderland is a happier place to manage after ridding the club of the dressing room dissenters and whisperers. During the transfer window Sbragia stamped his mark on the squad, trimming it to what he now describes as a "workable" level.

The likes of Pascal Chimbonda and El Hadji Diouf could certainly be viewed as the possible disruptive influences Sbragia moved on. In terms of cutting back on numbers, Sbragia also released – either on loan or via permanent deals – Liam Miller, Graham Kavanagh, Roy O'Donovan and Michael Chopra.

"From my point of view the numbers now are workable," said Sbragia, who inherited a vast squad from predecessor Roy Keane. "There were 22 in training the other day, and I would say that was the best it's been since I took over. It means now we've maybe nine players not whispering, not happy and disrupting the dressing room.

"We've not got players drifting around, complaining, whilst we [the coaching staff] were trying to work out what to do with them. There were too many whispers going on behind my back. Players who are unhappy maybe don't see light at the end of the tunnel, so start whispering, disrupting the dressing room.

"I want players to be realistic if they are not playing. But the squad I've got now I'm really pleased with. They've gelled and worked hard together. The atmosphere downstairs is absolutely brilliant. With that negativity gone, I feel it has made a difference in terms of the results.

"Sometimes players will blame other players, but now they've no excuse. Whoever has gone, has gone now, so it's up to the 22 players here to get us higher up that table."

Sbragia, meanwhile, is to take his players to Seville next week to escape the "boring" training ground.

Sbragia feels some warm weather will aid the club in their battle to beat the drop from the Premier League.

"We're going to go away to Seville for a few days and do a bit of training there, and hopefully get on track," commented Sbragia. "We need to get away from the training ground. I think it's a bit boring coming to the same place all the time. You keep coming in and the weather is not great, sometimes you can't train because the conditions are poor. It was like that a couple of weeks ago when the snow was on the ground, so we thought we'd go away and give them a little break. We'll do a little bit of team-bonding."

Sbragia feels the time is right with no game next weekend as the Black Cats were due to face Tottenham who are now otherwise engaged in the Carling Cup final with Manchester United.

One player who will not be involved in Saturday's clash at Arsenal, is striker Rade Prica. The Swede has made just six substitute appearances since a £2m move from Aalborg in last year's January transfer window. But Sbragia is close to off-loading the 28-year-old. "There have been two or three enquiries, but because it's their pre-season they've not pushed it on. We've had an offer, but we feel we can get more."

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