Jack Ross has urged his Sunderland players to control games better after a disappointing week on home turf.
The Black Cats took just one point from their last two games at the Stadium of Light, drawing 1-1 with Burton Albion before a 5-4 defeat to Coventry City.
Their promotion fate remains in their own hands but the margin for error is considerably smaller as Doncaster Rovers arrive on Good Friday.
Both those games have been open affairs, with Sunderland threatening in attack but gifting chances away on the break.
That has led to calls for Ross to move away from a 4-4-2 system that sees Charlie Wyke partner Will Grigg up front.
Ross admits that is in his thoughts ahead of Doncaster’s visit but he believes the primary issues has been a lack of composure within the team.
“I think we’ve probably, reflecting on the last couple of games, at the Stadium of Light this season, particularly in the last few months, we’ve had good control over games.
“These last two games we haven’t had that and we’ve looked more vulnerable, albeit we’ve created and taken opportunities.
“I think that’s been something for us to reflect on.
“Systems will play a part in it at times but the away the game is played by the personnel within the system will ultimately dictate it. “I think we’ve maybe got caught up a little bit in the emotion and I’ll take my responsibility for that.
“The emotions of these last couple of games, almost feeling like we need to win it in the first 15 minutes of the game.
“You then leave yourself open if you go behind and the whole dynamics of the game change again because it opens up even more, almost basketball-like.
“At times that’s OK, but we’ve probably shown at home this season that we’ve worn teams down by having that control over it.
“It’s probably easier to go from being in control to being open than it is to go from being open to having control, if that makes sense.
“There has been a lot for us to look back on.”
Ross’ comments echoed the immediate post-match thoughts of Grant Leadbitter, who urged his side to keep cool heads after the defeat to Coventry.
“We really do have to stay calm in situations like this,” he said.
“I’ve been here before, I’m an experienced player, it’s all about getting our heads down, staying calm, there’s a long, long way to go.
“There’ll be plenty of twists and turns. In spells today we were disappointing, when you score four goals at home it’s disappointing to lose the game,” he added.
“I’ve played in over 500 games, many promotion races, and it’s a matter of staying calm. Sometimes the intensity of brilliant but you can’t make rash decisions, rash mistakes. You can’t keep doing that but it’s about staying together and staying cool.
“We’ve won games all season for a reason, we’ve only lost three times. It’s all about coming in on Monday morning with an intensity.”
To that end, the return of Lee Cattermole will be a timely boost for the Black Cats.
The vastly experienced midfielder has been an influential presence this season but has recently been out of action with an ankle problem.
He returned to the bench last Saturday and after a full week in training, Ross says he is very much back in contention for the starting XI.
Ross admits that his experience could be vital on the pitch in the final five games.
“His form over the season has been good and I think he helps the players around them and brings out good things from them,” Ross said.
“I think he makes demands of them.
“On the pitch, there is more responsibility on players than people probably imagine.
“They can see th egame from the inside and they can affect parts of it. I’m not talking about players all of a sudden changing tactics in a game, but they can pull people around from what they see on the pitch.
“I think Lee is good at that, he’s got a good understanding of the game and I think he trusts himself in terms of making it known to players.
“His influence is good.”