LONDON (Reuters) - Sunderland striker Jermain Defoe is revelling in the pressure that comes from being the man whose goals are expected to save David Moyes’ side from relegation.
Sunderland’s plight is looking increasingly bleak with the club bottom of the Premier League table with 11 points from 15 matches.
Yet they have a player in Defoe who could fire them to safety and the 34-year-old is not fazed by suggestions that the fate of the north east club’s relegation battle is in his hands.
“Yes it is pressure but I love it,” Defoe, who has already scored eight times in the league this season, told Reuters in a telephone interview.
“If people expect me to score goals then I’ll do that. I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure this football club remains in the Premier League. I’ll try my best. Once I go on the pitch, it’s down to me, and if I am on it, then I control everything.”
Sunderland host league leaders Chelsea on Wednesday as they look to rebound from last weekend’s 3-0 away defeat to relegation rivals Swansea City that dropped them back to the foot of the table.
In stark contrast, Antonio Conte’s Chelsea sit three points clear at the top and are chasing their 10th league win in a row.
Defoe, whose former clubs include Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United, believes Sunderland’s underdog status could allow them play with a dangerous level of freedom.
“It’s always a tricky game playing against a team with that ‘we‘ve-got-nothing-to-lose’ mentality,” explained Defoe, who joined Sunderland in January 2015 after a short stint in the MLS with Toronto FC.
“We can go out there, express ourselves and enjoy the game. We’ll be solid and compact. The pressure is on Chelsea.”
Defoe, who is the only player to have scored against Chelsea for four different Premier League clubs (West Ham, Tottenham, Portsmouth and Sunderland) added: “When people expect you to lose the game you might go on and knick it. That would be great for us because we need the points at the minute.”
Chelsea striker Diego Costa has made an electric start to the season and has already netted 12 times in 15 league appearances and Defoe has been impressed with the Spain striker’s versatility in front of goal.
“He does everything; he runs in behind, he comes short, he’s strong and he can head it,” Defoe said. “He has been bullying defenders, to be honest. But if we can stop their best players from playing and really make it difficult for them then anything can happen.” Sunderland are unbeaten at home since the end of October and Defoe has urged his team mates to turn the Stadium of Light into a fortress.
“When you’re playing there and you’re winning, there can’t be many places in the country that are better in terms of atmosphere. It’s an amazing place to play football,” he said.
“We have to make the home games count. When teams come to the Stadium of Light they need to know it is going to be difficult.”
Editing by Toby Davis