The Black Cats turned in a spirited display as they lost 2-1 at high-flying Liverpool on Wednesday evening to suggest once again that they do have it within their powers to escape the drop. However, they have won just one of their last eight Barclays Premier League fixtures at the Stadium of Light and with their remaining four away games taking them to Tottenham, Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United, that is a situation which is going to have to change, and fast. Striker Connor Wickham has warned Sunderland they have to start to make home advantage count if they are to haul themselves out of the relegation mire. Press Association But England Under-21 international Wickham is ready to play his part if called upon. The £8.1million signing said: “That’s why I came back, that’s why I wanted to come back. That’s what I have said all along: I want to play football and that’s what the aim is to do.” A bullish Sam Allardyce has no regrets at cupping his ear in response to jeers from the West Ham support after Wednesday night’s win over Hull. Home fans stunned Allardyce by booing at the end of a 2-1 victory which could go a long way to securing the Hammers’ Barclays Premier League status, with Monday’s match at Sunderland another crucial fixture. Asked if he regretted making the gesture, Allardyce said: “Not really, no. Why should I? “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. In my younger days I might have done a lot worse and got myself into more trouble.” Allardyce, who accepts he will struggle to have the unanimous backing of the Hammers fans, on Saturday received the support of vice-chairman Karren Brady. “In many people’s eyes no matter what I do I’ll never be the flavour of the month, but that doesn’t matter,” Allardyce added. “(And) you always appreciate any backing you get. Working together is critical to the success for you as a manager and the club. “We’ve all had a difficult season, but we all know we want to get better and do better next season once we’ve secured our place in the Premier League. “They’ve always backed me since I’ve been here. I do appreciate that, because you can focus on the next game and on the future.” Victory at the Stadium of Light should all but secure the Hammers’ top-flight status and would allow Allardyce to plan for the future. He added: “Let’s go and try to win the game. The desperate need for Sunderland to win three points now means it’s going to be hugely difficult. “They will take some comfort out of their performance against Liverpool and will think this is a great chance to try to get to safety by getting three points against us.” Allardyce hopes the atmosphere at the Hull match will be forgotten, admitting the supporters’ barracking impacted on the players. “I’m protecting my players, not me,” he added. “You keep your thick skin on and you move on. My job is all about doing the best I possibly can for West Ham. “The atmosphere is critical to the players’ performance and the players lost a lot of their composure the other night, hearing the criticism that was coming their way and that made life difficult for them. “It’s a small minority always, but small minorities are good at voicing their opinion. “It’s all borne out of frustration because they expected us to win more comfortably than we did. “Everybody in the cold light of day when they calmed down realised how important the win was and everybody has got to realise what we’ve done in the last eight games. “We have 15 points in the last eight games. The most important thing was to win the game, acquire the three points and push on from here.” West Ham are without James Collins at Sunderland after he pulled a calf muscle against Hull. His fellow defenders James Tomkins (knock) and Roger Johnson (bruised eye) should be fit to feature, while Winston Reid has recovered from illness. Winger Matt Jarvis (thigh) is also available again, but Joey O’Brien (shoulder) and Marco Borriello (calf) are out. Gus Poyet’s men host West Ham on Monday looking for a first win in seven attempts in all competitions, and Wickham admits they have to turn around their home form. He said: “We are going to have to, we haven’t got a choice. We need to start picking up points. “We need to start looking at the reality now that we need to start picking up points. Scrappy points or good points, we just need to get the points on the board. “It’s up to us to start performing against not just the big teams, but the teams in and around us and start picking up points.” Goals, or more accurately, the lack of them, have been Sunderland’s most pressing concern for much of the campaign to date. Substitute Ki Sung-yueng’s header at Anfield was their first in four games and just their fourth in the eight outings they have had since the 3-0 derby victory at Newcastle on February 1. That return, coupled with Steven Fletcher’s ankle injury, prompted Poyet to recall 20-year-old Wickham from his loan spell at Leeds, and he was thrown straight into the starting line-up at Liverpool alongside the misfiring Jozy Altidore. Loan signing Fabio Borini, who celebrated his 23rd birthday on Saturday, was ineligible to play against his parent club in midweek, but will return to the fold on Monday to leave the manager facing a big decision.
THE ESPORTS ROUNDTABLE IS A PODCAST THAT HOSTS DIFFERENT GUESTS EACH AND EVERY WEEK, DISCUSSING ALL THINGS BUSINESS IN ESPORTS.The latest installment of The Esports Roundtable sees host Joe Hills welcome guest Taylor Johnson, Director of Player Development & Performance for Infinite Esports & Entertainment.Varying from what’s become a tradition on the podcast, Johnson delved into his professional past and it didn’t massively revolve around esports. His story is a little different than most when you consider that he previously had a career as a coach in traditional sports. Johnson has a background in multiple sports, including American football, martial arts, and rugby.These days, his responsibilities includes evolving the organisation’s personal and professional development, esports performance development including nutrition and mindset, and putting together a bridge program to help players stay successful once their competitive gaming years are over.Both the physical and mental development for athletes is an emerging area in the esports industry as of late. Well known organisations such as OpTic Gaming, of course, and Team Vitality have recently invested in training facilities that aim to improve player’s performance and overall chances of sustaining a career in esports should they wish to do so.Typically in esports, importance is placed on player’s mental wellness and not so much physically – it’s understandable in one sense since competitors are typically only use their hands to compete, but there’s a serious point in a person’s mental well-being having a link to their physical condition. Many people believe more goes into being the best competitor you can be than merely practicing your game of choice, being in a good condition in all aspects of life may well impact your overall performance. It’s an area that’s definitely receiving more attention as time goes on, and it’ll be interesting to see the results.Johnson hopes to really dig into the cognitive aspect of esports. He notes that those behind traditional sports know exactly how to prepare athletes day-to-day so they’re optimised for actual competitive games, but in terms of mental preparation and optimisation, it’s still relatively uncovered. He plans to work with researchers and cognitive experts to develop this understanding.Johnson commented after his time on The Esports Roundtable: “Structure and routine is fundamental to great performance – we are super happy with all our players so far and look forward to that emotional connection to them winning trophies and taking what we’ve taught them into their lives after pro.”Speaking to Esports Insider, Joe Hills, Founder and Host of The Esports Roundtable, also commented:“Taylor and the guys at IPI are really changing the game for esports performance. Taking a structural approach to building programs that can be replicated across the industry has huge potential impact on the healthspan and career length of players + their happiness and performance along the journey””Hills is the Founder of Looking for Group, an esports executive recruitment company and has worked to achieve placements for many high profile individuals in the burgeoning esports industry.