After Sunderland mounted a three-goal comeback at Bristol City in February, Lee Cattermole insisted that the Black Cats would finish the season far stronger than they started it.
‘Bristanbul’ was not the catalyst for a surge in form, but the midfielder has been right that the continuity and familiarity that a settled side brings would lead to improved performances.
It is scant consolation, however, when those performances have yielded just one win in five, a sequence of matches that has only brought one defeat for the struggling side.
The 30-year-old, like all connected with the club, has been left to rue the woeful start to the season and the defensive errors that continue to keep Sunderland from making a significant step up the table.
Six points adrift with just three games to play, following Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Reading, it looks almost certain to be beyond salvation now.
Cattermole said: “I feel like we should be a closer to being out of the bottom three.
“The last five performances, we have done everything but win the games.
“I think we have lost one in five. We have dominated the games, but, unfortunately, (we’ve conceded) a couple of sloppy goals, or soft goals, whatever you want to say.
“We are not keeping clean sheets and it is killing us.
“In terms of performance and attitude from the players in the last five games, that is what it takes to play for Sunderland.
“That is what you need to show – that attitude and desire to work for each other.
“I have said it for five or six years – it takes time and that is why we always finish seasons stronger than we start them, because we are changing 16, 17, 18 players every year.
“That is why it takes time. We look like a team now.
“Imagine if this were October – we would be delighted with that performance. The manager would be saying, that is what I want to see from you every week.
“We’ve made one or two changes, but, otherwise, we have had a balanced team recently.
“That is the frustrating position we are in – that is what is tough about it.
“We have drawn a game (on Saturday) and you are going off disappointed, but you have enjoyed the game. That is frustrating because you have enjoyed being out there playing. And that hasn’t always been the case this season.
“But we have got a few games left now and we just need to reproduce that.
“It looks like we have set standards and we are matching them every week. That is what it is about – reproducing those levels of performance.
“If we do that, the wins will come.”
Burton Albion are the visitors to the Stadium of Light this coming Saturday, on a day that could see both teams relegated from the Championship.
Nigel Clough’s side leaped ahead of Sunderland in the table after a superb 3-1 weekend win over Derby, and Cattermole says the Black Cats must maintain the standards set in recent weeks.
If they do, he insists it is not over yet for the Black Cats. He said: “Stranger things have happened.
“If we go and win three ... and there is no reason why we can’t win the next three
“It is a massive game. It is what it is.
“We win that, you never know. You never know.
“We are not going to stop fighting. We have got a bit of pride and character and every time we go out on that pitch we are representing not only ourselves, but our families, the club, all that.
“So you need to make sure you do your best every time.”