Sam Allardyce insists his relegation-threatened Sunderland side are trying their “best”.
But he has called on the Black Cats to banish the “fear factor” if they are to stop throwing away vital points in the battle for survival.
Allardyce has been busy counting the cost of points tossed away since he took charge.
And he has demanded his struggling players overcome their anxieties in order to stay up this season and take advantage of next year’s bumper television deal.
Sunderland are 19th in the Barclays Premier League, with just six points from 12 games, ahead of the trip to high-flying Crystal Palace a week on Monday.
By then, they could feasibly find themselves seven points adrift of safety.
Deep-thinking Allardyce, well-known for his detailed and meticulous preparation and planning, has been analysing the recent defeats closely.
The former Bolton, Newcastle and West Ham boss has won just one of his opening four matches in charge – the derby win over Newcastle – with Sunderland tasting 1-0 defeats against West Brom and Southampton and the 6-2 hammering at Everton.
And it is those narrow defeats that have left Allardyce frustrated.
He told the Echo: “We’ve got to beat the teams in or around us.
“If you can get points against the teams like Southampton, which we could have done, then that’s critical.
“Already, I’m counting the cost in my short period of time, in the goal at West Brom – that’s one point we’ve lost. And another point lost against Southampton.
“That’s two points to your total and then you’ve got eight points.
“The small margins are so critical that we’ve got to get those points.
“But we’ve certainly got to play better in possession first, and without the fear that I sensed against Southampton from players who are trying their best.
“If that fear is lingering in your mind, it makes life difficult to make the right decision.”
Sunderland, like the rest of the Premier League and Championship, have a free weekend due to the third international break of the season.
Allardyce has been using the extended time on the training ground with those players not away with their countries, honing a system that gets the best out of them.
Sunderland have switched between 4-3-3, 3-5-2 and 4-2-3-1 this campaign but have only managed one win.
Shoring up the leaky defence was Allardyce’s key priority when he took over the reigns from Dick Advocaat.