John O’Shea admits that Sunderland are making it too easy for the opposition and need to cut out basic errors to stand a chance of surviving.
Sunderland, four points adrift with just 10 Championship games left, are in real danger of successive relegations.
The Black Cats have the worst defence, having conceded 65 goals, gifting three to Aston Villa in Tuesday’s home defeat.
O’Shea says Sunderland can’t rely on their relegation rivals to keep losing and insists that they need to take responsibility themselves.
“It’s a step back and that’s the hugely frustrating thing,” said O’Shea, who went off injured at half-time against Villa and is a doubt for Saturday’s visit to QPR.
“You couldn’t say Aston Villa were incredibly better than us, but we’re giving teams too much of a helping hand, and that’s the truth of it.
“Until we get back to keeping clean sheets, we’ve got no chance because we can’t expect to be scoring two, three, four goals in a game to get wins.
“It’s the basics, everyone together. Mistakes will happen, but you need to do the basics well – stopping crosses, defending crosses, marking men in the box, getting decisions right, all those basics.
“If you do that, you get clean sheets and you give yourself a chance to win games.
“Defenders and goalkeepers want clean sheets, but, ultimatel,y it’s the team, the unit, that’s going to get us out of this together.
“Just before half-time (against Villa), you’re thinking there’s not much in it, so to go in 2-0 down, it’s very frustrating.
“It’s the mentality of every individual, looking at yourself first and foremost, making sure you’re doing everything right, then looking at your mate alongside you to make sure he’s doing everything right.
“When you combine that together, that’s when the team unit comes together – defensive unit, midfield unit, attacking unit, whatever.”
Sunderland were fortunate that the four clubs immediately above them – Burton Albion, Birmingham City, Barnsley and Hull City – were also beaten, but O’Shea knows Sunderland have to start taking responsibility.
“You can’t keep hoping teams lose if you keep losing because the games are going to run out,” added the 36-year-old.
“You have to somehow dig that result out, that three points, that clean sheet.
“If we do that, we’ll give ourselves some chance.
“You hear it said when you’re down there – ‘These things happen’ – but you can’t keep saying that, just like you can’t keep hoping other teams lose.
“The responsibility has to fall on your shoulders.
“You have to take it and make sure you’re ready, whatever 18 the manager picks for QPR.
“We have to show we want to stay in this league.
“If you show that, generally the results will be okay for you.”
When asked whether this was one of the toughest challenges in his near 20-year career, O’Shea said: “Potentially, yeah, but we still have a chance.
“There’s still 30 points to play for and we’re still in the fight.
“We have to stand up and be in that fight properly.”
Sunderland are no strangers to great escapes.
O’Shea added: “You pluck the win out and next thing the momentum can shift for you.
“That bit of confidence, that bit of fight just increases and you get a bit of momentum.
“But you have to find that win, you have to dig it out.
“There are little things you can do in the dressing room, like going out for team meals and team bonding sessions, which can play little parts along the way.
“But, ultimately, when you cross the line on the pitch, it’s about having that trust and that responsibility from your team-mates alongside you that they’re going to fight just as hard as you.
“If you can do that, you give yourselves a good chance.
“We have what we have.
“We have the team we have, the players available and whatever team the manager selects, we have to do that together.”