Sunderland duo Lee Cattermole and Lynden Gooch discuss slow starts and adapting to League One

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Adapting to a new league is never easy, especially when everyone is desperate to beat you.

Sunderland were the clear favourites to win promotion from League One at the start of the season, justifiably so considering Jack Ross' side are just three points behind league leaders Portsmouth, with a game in hand.

Lee Cattermole playing for Sunderland.

Lee Cattermole playing for Sunderland.

But the Black Cats' lofty status has caused a number of challenges this campaign, with opposition managers and players comparing a meeting with Sunderland to a 'cup final.'

At the start of the season, Jack Ross' side were regularly caught off guard by revved up opponents, who raised their games for the big occasion.

In their first seven league games, Sunderland conceded inside 20 minutes on five occasions, as their opponents burst out of the blocks.

The lively starts and competitive nature of the fixtures certainly came as a shock, admits Black Cats midfielder Lee Cattermole.

Even so, the 30-year-old midfielder believes the team have learnt to adapt.

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MORE: Lee Cattermole and Lynden Gooch discuss slow starts and adapting to League One

"At the start of the season the games were so lively, we conceded about six or seven goals in the first 15 minutes," Cattermole told the Echo.

"I think we were getting caught off guard a little bit by teams, how quick they were starting, once the games settled down we were so much stronger in the game."

Cattermole's team-mate Lynden Gooch agrees that it's taken a while to acclimatise to League One.

However, the Black Cats have won their last four league games, and Gooch feels they are much better prepared compared to three months ago.

"I think we know we’re the big fish in this league," said Gooch. "We know everyone is going to be coming at us all guns blazing in every single game home and away.

"We’ve obviously had to get used to that but we’ve come through all those tough moments and produced some really good performances."

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Sunderland have also improved significantly at the back, keeping three clean sheets in a row.

Recent results have taken Ross' side to the cusp of the automatic promotion places, but Cattermole insists there's still a long way to go.

"Now I think we’re getting through the opening periods of games much better and we're keeping clean sheets," said Cattermole.

"If we’re keeping clean sheets we’re going to score goals, we’ve got the quality in the final third.

"We’re handling the league better but we’re learning all the time as a group, it’s only natural you’re not going to come into a league and just turn it over.

"There’s a long, long way to go and it’s going to be a long hard season."