David Preece: Sunderland are in trouble – but the time to worry is when they go paintballing

Sunderland's players are stuck in a rut
Sunderland's players are stuck in a rut
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Home isn’t always where the heart is. It certainly isn’t when you’ve gone 306 days without out a win there.

By the time the Bristol City game rolls around, that will take us to 316 days and facing a side who have improved massively since last season and have looked in impressive with it.

There are only two more games against Bolton and Millwall after that to save the club from the ignominy go going a full calendar year without winning at home and that will be something Simon Grayson will not want to happen whilst he’s at the helm.

Granted, he’s been responsible for the side for barely three months of that record but football rarely tends to do context so it will still become stain on his time here regardless.

This wasn’t the deal though, was it? We resigned ourselves to a life in the Championship consoled in the knowledge that we might be going down but at least we’ll actually win some games this season, right? You can insert the wrong answer sound effect from Family Fortunes here if you like.

So how can we turn things around? Well, it’s very difficult. It’s a conundrum that has so many possible answers that you just have to start at the beginning and see what works for your side.

I’ve never been in a side that has gone this long without winning at home but across the course of a career in football, you experience many peaks and troughs. Some peaks are higher than others, some troughs become chasms, but how you deal with them is crucial to how long they last.

Some people dismiss momentum but like a runaway train, these bad runs do gather pace. Tension increases the longer they stretch and despite the new faces that litter the side now, the sense of anxiety running through it it still remains.

It happens to the best of players who find themselves amongst a collective slump and the solution is far less simpler than it can seem from the outside.

It takes more than working harder, it takes more than narrowing your focus, it takes more than just willing to do well. It’s not just about working tirelessly on the training ground, you have to work smarter too but when players are in a negative mental state and poor form, more work in training is just emphasising what’s wrong in their game. It’s the psychological aspect that is hardest to overcome and it’s important to get those players with right frame of mind so that the work done is productive.

To turn bad situations around requires the ability to delude yourself about how well things are going. You have to lie to yourself to make you believe that all is not lost, because deep down, you’re doubting yourselves and all around you.

That’s when you see managers in post match press conferences and wonder whether they were watching the same game as you. It isn’t always an exercise in spin for them, trying to convince everyone else that, actually, their team didn’t play as bad as everyone thinks. They’re trying to convince themselves too.

The thing is, however many times you try to convince yourself that today is the day when you put that record to bed, there’s always that nagging feeling at the back of your mind that the world is conspiring against you.

As a player, you have to be honest with yourself and that’s OK up to a certain point before you start beating yourself up too much and it becomes damaging.

You begin to examine every single part of your life and look for reasons why you’re not performing.

You constantly question the minute details of what you do. You ask yourself if you’re sleeping enough and start taking afternoon naps in the hope you’ll be more refreshed the next day. Meal times become an intricate operation of planning and anything that isn’t viewed as healthy isn’t worth the guilt that eating it brings.

Then you question whether you are too concentrated and focused on your work that it’s making you too tense, so you think of ways to relieve yourself of the stress of what is happening on the pitch and take your mind off it.

It’s not just the players that are affected either. You can see when the stress starts getting to managers too. You can visibly see the doubts beginning to seep in and they start to alter their weekly routines. First they try to be nice to you and give you an extra day off here and there to see if the time away from the training ground changes things. Then they get tough and suddenly you find yourself in training on a Sunday morning.

For reasons unbeknown to me, some managers are under the impression that taking the team paintballing was a cure for a team’s bad form. I hated paintballing too. The first time I ever went, I climbed over the perimeter fence to lay down behind a fallen tree and went to sleep for an hour. It just wasn’t my thing.

So basically what I’m saying is if you see a picture of the Sunderland players wearing camouflage outfits and protective masks, thats the time to really start worrying. That’s when you know we’re in big trouble.