Sunderland's run of 11 league games without victory is a far cry from the solid start the Wearside club made to the Premier League season. A battling draw with Manchester United was followed by notable wins over Arsenal and Liverpool, albeit the latter with the help of a deflection from a stray beach ball. Six wins from their first 13 games led manager Steve Bruce to proclaim he had a "tingle" of excitement about his Black Cats' chances this year.
However, with no wins since November, he is now left with a major headache about how to arrest the alarming slump. "The one thing I am not going to do is give up on it," said Bruce. The loss of the combative Lee Cattermole and an unsettled defence have been factors in Sunderland's slide towards the relegation zone. But so has the loss of form of striker Kenywne Jones, whose early season performances saw him compared with Chelsea's Didier Drogba.
Jones's goal in Saturday's 1-1 draw with Wigan was only his second in his last 14 games. Talk of a transfer to Liverpool in January did not help but the forward said he was not to blame. "I have never said I wanted to leave. I don't have control what is in the press," he said. "All I can control is my performance and that is what I aim to do." Portsmouth's 2-1 FA Cup win over Sunderland last month was their only high during their own recent turbulent times.
They are seven points adrift at the bottom of the table following Saturday's 5-0 demolition by Manchester United. But manager Avram Grant said he still has harbours hope that his team can beat the drop. "If we have a chance then we will fight. We're in a difficult situation but we accept the challenge," said Grant. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org Portsmouth v Sunderland, 11.45pm, Showsports 3