SUNDERLAND boss Martin O’Neill admitted his side were in a relegation battle after the Black Cats lost 2-1 at Norwich in the Barclays Premier League last night.
An early goal from defender Sebastien Bassong put Norwich ahead and when Anthony Pilkington slotted home a second after 37 minutes Hughton’s side appeared on course for a comfortable win.
But after conceding a goal on the stroke of half-time to Craig Gardner, the Canaries had to fight for much of the second half to deny Sunderland a share of the spoils.
Matthew Kilgallon missed the best of Sunderland’s second-half efforts while Gardner rattled a post and saw another shot cleared off the line.
Whilst Norwich extended their unbeaten league run to eight games, Sunderland have won just two of their last 22 Premier League fixtures and O’Neill is under no illusion that his side are scrapping for survival.
“Until you get the requisite number of points on the board I don’t think that you can ever think anything else,” he said.
“You need the points, it really is as simple as that. We haven’t at the minute got enough points on the board and we have to rectify that.
“Our position in the league at the minute, with a couple of teams all tight together, would suggest just that (we are in a fight).
“It is a battle for us and we have to pull through - it was a battle last year and so from that viewpoint I’m hoping the experience they have got will stand them in good stead this season.”
O’Neill bemoaned his side’s performance in the first half but reckons the turnaround in the second half should give the team confidence going forward, although talismanic striker and Scotland international Steven Fletcher could be missing through injury having been brought off with a knock at half-time.
“To dominate the way we did in the second half is encouraging, there is no doubt about that,” he said.
“I said to the players at the end that if we perform like we did in the second half we will be fine, we are certainly not good enough to gift goals to teams.”
Norwich manager Chris Hughton felt his players felt the strain of playing three matches in the space of a week as they struggled to contain Sunderland during the second half.
Hughton named the same 10 outfield players for the two draws against Everton and Southampton as he did for the win over Sunderland and reckons fatigue could have started to take its toll.
“I thought we were excellent in the first half and it is difficult to sustain that over 90 minutes, particularly with it being the third game in a week,” he said.