Whitehead demands battling spirit

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The Independent Football

A dismal 4-1 home defeat to Portsmouth at the weekend saw the Black Cats sink to the bottom of the table and although their next challenge is Arsenal at Highbury on Saturday there are plenty of opportunities to improve their position after that.

Struggling Aston Villa and Birmingham have to visit the Stadium of Light at the end of the month, with Everton also travelling to the North-East either side of trips to Blackburn and Fulham for Mick McCarthy's side.

The match at Craven Cottage is the first of the new year and by then McCarthy will have a much better idea of what is required from his team.

For the time being, however, Whitehead wants the players to pull together in the face of adversity. "We all want to be in the team here and we have to prove we are good enough at this level," he said. "It's a massive test of character and Saturday's result was a huge disappointment that everyone takes blame for.

"We've got to get our heads up again. We have 27 games left and plenty of points still to fight for.

"We've not been turned over in that fashion this season and have to try to put it behind us. We have to pull together and start playing for each other. We were winning every week last year and the spirit grew in strength.

"This season is proving a lot harder and we need that togetherness even more. It's a test for all of us."

McCarthy admitted he was finding it more difficult than he anticipated. "We knew it [the Premiership] was going to be difficult, perhaps it's proving harder than we thought," he said.

"All we can do is keep going, but of course I'm concerned. If we are going to be inconsistent, we've got to finish above three other sides who are going to be worse and more inconsistent.

"I know the supporters are suffering. They don't want to see us play like that. It's a horrible feeling but we've all just got to keep on going and keep scrapping."