Earlier in the season, with Sunderland’s campaign floundering but far from doomed, Lewis Grabban spoke of a similiar situation he had experienced while at Bournemouth.
The Cherries were near the foot of League One despite boasting a squad most felt should be challenging at the other end of the table.
They turned the corner and won promotion, the key to which, Grabban said, was cementing a style of play to follow week in, week out.
Sunderland have arguably still failed to do that this season, explaining why, five games on from Grabban’s comments, they are still searching for just their second win of the season.
The gap to the top half and an injury crisis means a Bournemouth-style surge is unlikely in the extreme for new manager Chris Coleman, but he has vowed to introduce a philosophy for his players to pursue every time they cross the white line.
The key to that will be a determination to take better care of the ball, build up patiently but commit bodies in attack. Despite the disappointing defeat to Aston Villa, there were already signs of the message getting through, particularly in the first half when Sunderland spent long spells in possession of the ball.
“I asked them to do that because what we can’t afford to do is keep giving the ball back to the opposition, let them attack us and hope they don’t score,” Coleman said.
“That’s when I’m talking about accountability.
“I think we’ve got good enough players to create chances.
“I know we’re bottom of the league and, by hook or by crook, we need results, but we need to put something in place – a guide, a plan that we can stick to and not think we will win as long as we get a lucky goal. We’ve got to go and make it happen.
“I think, for us, we’ve got to go and try and create chances, and we’ve got players who can do that. They’ve got to believe in themselves a bit more in the final third, but we have the quality there to do that.
“In the 20 minutes before Aston Villa, we really only worked with the goalkeeper and the back four because we didn’t have any time to get further forward.
“I thought most of it worked quite well. I was happy with it. I just think we need more belief in the final third, gamble more, get more bodies going forward – because, when you’re losing, you can often be afraid to be expansive.
“We can’t worry about the opposition going forward and scoring on the counter, because you get caught in no man’s land not doing either.
“My message to the players is ‘take charge of your own destiny’. ‘Go and make it happen’. ‘Go and force it’.
“We have to choose our way to make it happen and believe in it.
“If it’s the wrong one, it’s the wrong one, we’ll find out soon enough. But, for now, we just have to commit to a way and stick to it.
“There’s games every week in this league and they’re all tough.
“We can’t say we’re playing like this against Villa and then like that against Burton because will be wondering what’s going on.
“Our formation might change, but the principles of how we play and our belief can’t.”
Coleman has not had a significant amount of time to work with the side ahead of tomorrow’s crucial game at fellow drop-zone dwellers Burton Albion and, with a number of first-team players out injured, he knows he will not be able to make rapid progress when it comes to instilling his methods and philosophy into the players.
Nevertheless, he refused to play down the importance of the upcoming games and expects his makeshift sides to deliver.
“I think it’s such a short space of time, to be fair to them,” said the ex-Wales boss.
“Before Aston Villa, we had 20 minutes where we could do something with them and they attempted it. We know it’s not going to come overnight.
“Even if we’d have won that game, there’d have been aspects of it where we would have looked and thought we can do better here and there.
“They were receptive to what I had to say and long may that continue.
“Again, I’ll say they need to be brave. They need to accept the situation that we’re in, but we’re in control of our own destiny.
“Some people might not be comfortable with that, but we are in control of our own destiny.
“It’s up to us – whether we play short, long or whatever – we need to take responsibility for it and we need to own it.
“It’s no good saying: ‘Do you know you what’s happened at this club for the last whatever. This has been coming, everything is so bad etc’
“I say: ‘hold on a minute, let’s stop there’.
“Burton is coming and it’s a six-pointer and the game after that (Reading) will be just as important.
“We’ve got to go and go and go until a moment comes where we can’t.”