Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Success Not Stress Is Johnson's Aim as Black Cats Look for Steady Progress; THE PREVIEW: Sunderland V Stoke City, Today, 3pm Sunderland Still Await Their First League Win of the Season, but Adam Johnson Is Confident They Can Avoid Getting Dragged into a Relegation Battle. Mark Douglas Reports

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Success Not Stress Is Johnson's Aim as Black Cats Look for Steady Progress; THE PREVIEW: Sunderland V Stoke City, Today, 3pm Sunderland Still Await Their First League Win of the Season, but Adam Johnson Is Confident They Can Avoid Getting Dragged into a Relegation Battle. Mark Douglas Reports

Article excerpt

HAVING spent the first half of 2014 swigging in the last chance saloon with the rest of his Sunderland team-mates, you could excuse Adam Johnson for being a glass half-full type.

Trying to make head or tail of the Black Cats' start to the season has been a difficult one.

On the one hand they are 17th and just two points clear of neighbours Newcastle, who have been cast in the role of early-season crisis club. They haven't scored enough and goalless draws against Burnley and Swansea seem to scream inertia to outsiders.

But to those sifting through the start for positives, there is a feeling that this team has Gustavo Poyet's stamp on it now.

They seem more comfortable in their own skins, have eradicated the mistakes which undermined them for large chunks of last term and are infinitely better placed than they were a year ago - when Paolo Di Canio's disastrous management threatened to leave them adrift.

So where are Sunderland right now? Well - and he is being serious here - Johnson reckons they are in the best place since he joined.

"It's probably been the best start since I've been here to be honest," he says.

"I think in the first season I was here we had four points at this stage, and last season it was a point. Now we have five. If we can win on Saturday, it'll look a lot better, but it's all about getting that first win.

"We've only been beaten once and our defending looks all right. We look hard to beat - it's just more about scoring goals and creating more chances in that final third. Hopefully, that will come."

Warming to the theme, Johnson - who dismisses worries about his reaction to being withdrawn by Poyet during the Swansea draw - has emphasised that the club are well placed to avoid another draining battle with the drop.

Asked whether Sunderland should be positive or negative, he says: "Definitely positive.

"It's still so early in the season, but even with a couple of wins we'll climb the table and everyone will be talking about finishing in the top half. That's how it goes, but you lose again and then everyone is talking about a relegation battle.

That's just how it is. It's still early and we certainly aren't thinking about that (relegation).

"Don't get me wrong, we can play a lot better. We're nowhere near at our best, but on the positive we do seem to be hard to beat and when we do click, we'll win a lot of games. Without doubt, there's definitely been progress.

"We're looking much better since the gaffer came in and there's been a gradual improvement all along. "It's taken time, but if we get a win on Saturday then it looks like a good start to the season. It's about taking our chances, and even if it's just a 1-0 on Saturday, it's all about the result. A win gets that confidence right back up there again. …

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