David Moyes knows the importance of preventing the atmosphere at the Stadium of Light from worsening in the final two home games of the season.
Sunderland’s 2-2 draw with West Ham almost a fortnight ago was marked by boos and chants of ‘We want Moyes out’ as the support turned on the manager for the first time in an ardous campaign.
Anger and discontent went up another notch at the Riverside on Wednesday night as the Black Cats fell to another defeat.
The visit of Bournemouth at the weekend could see Sunderland mathematically relegated, should they fail to match Hull City’s result, the Tigers away to Southampton as they edge towards an extraordinary escape.
Moyes has insisted he will not walk despite the struggles of his side, looking to lead the side into what will more than likely be a Championship campaign next time out.
Confidence is draining among the fanbase and the Sunderland boss says wins are the only way to restore faith in the direction of the club.
He said: “I don’t want that [atmosphere to turn]. I want us to be strong, play well, and go in the right direction.
“At the moment we have to try and turn things around, get some big wins between now and the end of the season to get some momentum going.
“If you are winning games, you don’t see all the other things so much.
“But when you’re losing, it makes all the other problems more obvious.”
Moyes was quick to defend his players after the West Ham draw, insisting that they had fought for the shirt and shown their commitment.
That was a sentiment he echoed after the Middlesbrough defeat, despite cries of ‘you’re not fit to wear the shirt’ from the away end at the final whistle. Many supporters showed their fury with the Sunderland squad, though Wahbi Khazri received a loud ovation as he threw his shirt into the crowd.
Moyes said after the game: “Criticism is rightly due but not on tonight’s performance, players have stuck at it and shown they’re capable of trying to get points and win games.
“We could have criticism in other games which was right, but tonight and against West Ham United we played well.
“We didn’t give them many opportunities, they didn’t give us many either, but thought we did enough.
“It wasn’t for the lack of want or trying, players fantastic in effort they put in but came up short.
The final two home games of the season will in all likelihood be tense affairs, frustration always on the brink of turning to anger.
The clash with Bournemouth, then relegation threatened Swansea a fortnight later, were games that once looked like prime opportunities to climb the table. Now, they look like cruel glimpses of what might have been.
Moyes insisted that he understands the anger on the terraces but echoed his claim that if the West Ham performance is repeated, the team ought to be supported.
He said: “Our results have meant that supporters are frustrated.
“I’m a football supporter, and I’m also a football manager, and I’m disappointed so I can understand how the supporters feel.
“But on the day, everyone just has to focus on the team and how well the team is playing.
“We played well against West Ham, we kept going right to the end, and we were trying to win right to the end.
“And while the fans did express how they feel, once we scored and got back into the game a few minutes later, they stuck with the team.
“We went a goal down in both halves, but the team fought back and on another day we might just have nicked it.”
That Hammers draw ended in slightly surreal scene as Sunderland fought for a stoppage time winner, the atmosphere in the crowd voiceferous, yet Moyes gathering the ball in his techincal area still drew a chrous of pantomine boos.
On Wednesday night there were even chants in support of Roy Keane, who left the club in 2008.
How the mood will swing on Saturday remains to be seen, but there is little doubt that many are steeling themselves for a potentially torrid afternoon.