SUNDERLAND are set to recall Dwight Yorke in the hope he can give them the mental edge in a crucial game between two teams bereft of confidence.
The last of Yorke’s six Premier League appearances this season was in December. Having slipped into the background while things were going well, he is ready to step up in the side’s hour of need.
Sunderland have been lacking many things recently but most notably confidence. Yorke will be charged with ensuring his team-mates take on the reigning world, European and English champions wearing smiles on their faces.
“It’s normally the case that there is a lack of confidence in the position we are in,” said 37-year-old Yorke. “If you are not scoring goals, and you are in the position we are, when you go a goal behind it takes a lot of character to come back. At the moment we are lacking a little bit of that.
“I’m looking to get back in the team now to try to bring some experience. We have players that have played in the Premier League but only for a year or two. We don’t really have any established Premier League players and they are finding it a bit difficult.
“That’s part of the reason I’m here, to bring that calming influence. Hopefully, given the chance, I can influence the team from on the pitch.
“When Ricky first took over the team was on such a high, everything seemed cosy, there was no need for me to push myself forward. I was quite happy to let that happen as much as I still wanted to play. But now we are in a bit of a dilemma there’s a need for some experience.”
Sbragia was impressed by the way Porto took Tuesday’s Champions League tie to a below-par Red Devils, snatching a 2-2 draw. He may try to replicate their system, Yorke playing the holding role Fernando impressively occupied in a 4-3-3 formation.
Yorke, who has a loosely-defined coaching role at the club, has never been relegated and is adamant that remains the case.
“It’s up to us as staff to explain the importance (of relegation) to the players,” he said. “I made it known in the meetings we have had that you don’t want to be going off in the summer knowing you are coming back to the Championship. I would like to think that has sunk in.
“If we do, the finger will be pointed at us because we got ourselves in that position.”
Yorke apart, few players are prepared to put their heads above the parapet and talk to the media – a sign of waning confidence.
“It’s amazing, when you find players doing well they always want to talk,” he said. “When I was a young man I was exactly the same. It happens in every way of life. If you’re buzzing and going out every night pulling women, you want to tell everyone about it.
“Now the mood has changed it’s a serious feel around the club and the smile seems to have gone off a few faces. You can see there’s a bit of a low.
“But it’s important we stay focused because that’s what it will take to get through this. It will take a unique effort, from everyone from top to bottom. But we are still very positive we can get out of this situation.”
Sbragia expects to be without left-back George McCartney for “a couple of weeks”, but midfielder Teemu Tainio is back after a knee injury and could play on Saturday.