Chris Coleman allowed his Sunderland squad a Christmas party last week, but insisted that it is only in coming through tough times on the pitch that they will foster real team spirit.
Coleman’s side finally ended their long winless run at home, beating Fulham 1-0 on Saturday, and now have seven points from five games under the new manager.
Crucially, they have also improved a chronic defensive record in that time, keeping three clean sheets to show real signs of progress and greater organisation.
They were heavily beaten by Reading a fortnight ago, after Callum McManaman saw red on the stroke of half-time, and Coleman said that overcoming those kinds of obstacles will be key to building unity.
Asked if Sunderland’s players, unlike those up the road at Premier League strugglers Newcastle, had enjoyed a Christmas party, manager Coleman said: “Yeah, they had one last week.
“But look, you don’t even have to like each other.
“The best dressing rooms I’ve been in, there’s been a bit of an edge, but when you get onto the pitch you are together.
“You don’t have to spend time with each other, you really don’t.
“I’ve been in dressing rooms where, yeah, it is a great laugh, but the team isn’t doing anything.
“So the Christmas party wasn’t about team spirit. That comes from the last week and after Reading, sticking together from being in moments where it is super tough and you can’t see any light on the tunnel, but you don’t go missing and duck it.
“You keep coming back, when you’re not guaranteed anything, but you keep coming back. That’s where it will come from.”
Coleman also had special praise for matchwinner Josh Maja, who scored just five minutes into his league debut for the Black Cats to secure all three points and lift the Red and Whites out of the Championship drop zone.
The Sunderland manager has been impressed with both Maja and fellow youngster Joel Asoro, and he says the ‘signs are good’ for both of them making a real impact at first-team level.
Coleman said of Maja: “I can’t tell you about the future. All I know is what I see.
“Right now, he’s got good movement, knows where the goal is.
“He’s had his injuries but had a good pre-season. Simon (Grayson, former manager) liked him also but couldn’t use him.
“Luckily for me, he’s come back, had a few games with the Under-23s, trained with us quite a lot.
“We like what we see – him and young Joel have got a lot of hard work to do, but the signs are good.
“He took his goal well, great movement, great first touch, and the finish was sublime.
“I’m pleased for him.
“His future will be what he wants to be. He’s got a lot of hard work to do, but the signs are good.
“When you’re young, if you’re young and playing here and looking at the Stadium and the possibilities, if you can’t get excited about that…. Even when it has been tough the possibilities are huge.
“Young Maja has got a chance to be involved in all of that and he’s given himself a great chance to stay around the first team and the squad.
“When moments like that happen, a youngster wins the game, he’ll feel that reaction forever.
“He’ll never ever forget it.
“What a debut that is and he deserves it.”