Simon Grayson says it is too early for Sunderland to settle for a relegation battle, despite facing persistent questions about his future at the club.
With just one win in 14 games many fans have called for an early change in the dug-out, with the Black Cats boss admitting that ‘anything could happen’ should they lose again to Bolton Wanderers on Tuesday night.
Grayson is under no illusions about his position but insists his squad are more than capable of being competitive at this level.
He said: “It’s too early to settle for that [relegation battle]. The table shows that we are in the bottom three at the moment, and we have to do better because we are not doing well enough with the group of players that we have at our disposal.
“But wins will come, without a shadow of a doubt, because we have too many talented players to let it go on any further.
“It’s definitely been frustrating. But even where we are, a couple of wins can lift you up the table and if we can gather some momentum, who is to say we can’t look towards the top half over the course of the season.
“This season was always going to be tough given that this club was relegated from the Premier League.
“It’s a big fish in the Championship, everybody wants to beat Sunderland just as they did last year with Aston Villa.”
Grayson was heavily critical of those players after the 2-1 defeat to Bristol City on Saturday, and again called on them to take responsibility on home turf.
The Black Cats lost their way in a dire second half display, and Grayson insists long balls were not necessarily part of the gameplan.
He said: “In terms of what I said on Saturday, I have touched on it a little bit without going overboard.
“I don’t criticise individual players in public, what I say in the dressing room remains in the dressing room, but it is about what players do on the grass and I can’t make every decision for them.
“When we are telling them who to mark, and we work on set-pieces on a Friday, and then someone lets a 5ft 7in player get a free header, that’s not my fault.
“That’s a player’s responsibility because he has been given a job and he hasn’t done what he is required to do.
“That’s what I was talking about.
“In this day and age, the modern footballer, do they take a lot of responsibility? Probably not, but they are getting paid and they should do.”
“I was disappointed from the point of view that we got the goal just before half-time and I really wanted us to kick-on, get hold of the ball, and take the game by the scruff of the neck,” he added.
“We didn’t do that – our decision-making was poor, and our key players didn’t play anywhere near as well as they should have done after we had got back into the game with that goal.
“In the last 10 minutes we probably went too gung-ho which allowed them a few opportunities, but we had to try and do something to try get an equaliser
“It’s about players taking responsibility,” he added.
“I tell the players to play and pass the ball, but of course if they are marked then they might have to go longer because it is the better option.
“We have different ways of playing, but I can’t do it for them because obviously I’m not allowed on the pitch!
“Ultimately it is up to them to make those decisions during the game.”
The pressure will be intense for a side that has not won at home in 2017, and looked no closer to doing so just days ago.
Bolton Wanderers arrive having turned around a shocking start to the season, still bottom of the table but unbeaten in three, denied at Craven Cottage on Saturday only by a 90th minute equaliser from Fulham’s Tom Cairney.
Grayson has called on his side to show far greater urgency to break their duck and avoid the ignominy of falling to the bottom of the league.
He said: “It’s something we have spoken about before every home game this season.
“I want them to express themselves, I want them to run around, I want the fans to see that they are giving their all, putting crosses in, winning second balls, and playing with a real sense of purpose.
“The difference tomorrow, compared to Saturday, is that I want us to play with more urgency – when the ball goes out of play, let’s run after it and take a quick throw-in, or take a quick free-kick.
“We need more urgency to take the game to the opposition and let them worry more about us than we do about them, which has sometimes affected the players”.