Larsson 'hungry' to make amends
Sebastian Larsson is adamant that Sunderland will approach their game with Stoke City determined and hungry after their embarrassing 6-1 defeat at Villa Park last time out.
Manager Paolo Di Canio forced his players to watch video footage of their humiliating defeat against relegation rivals Villa after training on Tuesday. That made for painful viewing for the 27-year-old who says that Di Canio has made it abundantly clear what he expects from his players against the Potters.
"We got a right kick up the backside and there will be a real determination and hunger to put that right on Monday," Larsson told the Sunderland Echo. "We've watched the Villa game back and gone through it. It was painful to watch, but I think it needed to be after a performance like that. You've got to be really honest and tough towards yourself and as a team, because that second half was nowhere near what we'd produced in the weeks before. Once you set your standards and drop below them, it's not good enough.
"Since the manager came in, we've gone through all the games very thoroughly. But obviously there was a lot more negatives out of this one and it's not a nice feeling to sit and watch it. It hurts enough as it is, but you have to do it and let it hurt. You don't want to repeat that feeling. We've gone through it, spoken about it and we're very clear on what we have to do. But, as I've said before, it's one thing talking about it and another actually doing it.
"We gave away some very sloppy goals to say the least. We had 45 minutes where not only did we underperform massively, but the goals we conceded were ones you don't concede very often. It was a very bad spell, but, in a way, it might be a good thing for us. If you lose 2-1, you can still go away and say it was a decent performance. It's an understatement to say it was a massive disappointment. It's not what we expected or what we should have produced. But it's a wake-up call after two-and-a-half very good performances previous to that. We obviously have to look at ourselves and realise that it's not job done and we've got to do it on Monday."
Unfortunately however Larsson and his team-mates must attempt to rectify the situation without Stephane Sessegnon, after his red card appeal was rejected by the FA on Wednesday. The forward was sent off for a tackle on Villa midfielder Yacouba Sylla in the 70th minute and will now miss the remaining three games of the campaign.
With Sunderland still desperately fighting to avoid relegation, the absence of Sessegnon could prove vital in deciding their fate. Forced to admit his disappointment at the player's absence, Larsson believes that it is now up to his team-mates to fill the void left behind.
"Of course it's a blow. Sessy, especially in the games against Everton and Newcastle, has been on top form," Larsson said. "He's a very important player, everybody knows that, there's no point lying about it. But it feels like throughout this season we've lost key players through injuries or suspensions. We can handle it and deal with it, even though we'll miss him a lot.
"I think it puts a bit more pressure on everyone's shoulders. First we lost Fletch who is our top scorer and now Sessy. But when we lost Fletch, other people have stepped up in recent weeks. There'll have to do that again because there's no other option. There's no point dwelling on it [Sessegnon's absence], we know what we have to do.
"The target is always to get to that 40-point mark, especially when you've been where we are. That will hopefully be enough. But as the manager has pointed out, our aim was to get there on Monday and we didn't. He's been very honest in telling us that there's no point in delaying it. Let's get it done now and then see what happens. We don't have many games to get there, but it only requires one win."
Meanwhile, Di Canio is desperate for Sunderland to restore some local pride by ignoring the praise of the fans, which the Italian claims can give his players "too much confidence".
He said: "After Newcastle, it was a three-day party for the fans, the players became heroes. I couldn't go 400 yards for a haircut. In Sunderland, there is a passion like Naples. You can't go out because a butcher comes out with meat saying, 'It's for you, for your family'.
"You couldn't go into the town, I couldn't believe it. Even in the street during the day, I went 300 hundred yards and 20 people stopped me. Many girls came and hugged me and I was wondering what was going on. I couldn't imagine this passion. I can imagine the players around the town.
"But we have to make sure for the future that there can't be too much positive poison because otherwise we are going to lose because we are worried, or because we have too much confidence. It's another experience for me. It was very tough, the first time I had lost 6-1 with my team in front of our fans at a crucial moment of the season.
"But because the analysis we made was clear, I am sure that we can lose, we can draw, we can win, but on Monday night, we are going to perform in a proper way. I can guarantee this."