Sunderland boss Mick McCarthy has defended misfiring striker Jon Stead amidst fears the 22-year-old will be made a scapegoat for his side's failings this season.
The former Blackburn man has scored just twice in over 60 games, and never for Sunderland, and has not looked like recapturing the form that first took him to The Premiership from Huddersfield back in 2004.
Stead's goal-shy nature is a symptom of Sunderland's terrible form which has seen them take just ten points this season, and McCarthy is keen to defend his striker in the face of criticism.
The Black Cats boss has praised Stead's work-rate, and voiced his concern that the striker would be made into a scapegoat.
"He keeps going out and working, that's all he can do, keep going and he has been" McCarthy told Sky Sports News.
"Sometimes it gets a little unfair I don't think he'sÇªwe'll look at him.
"He is still a very young man, he came here for a lot of money and great things were expected of him.
"It's not happened for one thing but it's not really happened for anyone else at the club either and he's been part of that, not the reason but a part of it.
"For that reason I feel a bit of sympathy, that perhaps too much blame is attached to him for not scoring but nobody's really been on fire.
"But he's kept going, kept working, he wanted to play in the reserves last night to get his sharpness and perhaps nick a goal, but his effort and work-rate and application have been admirable."
For his part Stead is desperate to end his barren run in front of goal in order to help his side avoid the tag of being the worst club in the history of The Premier League - as they are still nine points shy of their previous worst total.
"Things like that get remembered and I don't want to be remembered as the worst side in Premiership history," said Stead
Meanwhile, in other Sunderland news young defender Sean Taylor has extended his loan deal at League One outfit Blackpool.
The 20-year-old will now remain at Bloomfield Road for another month after impressing during his short spell under Simon Grayson.