Sunderland's Donald Love reflects on '˜scary' prospect of relegation to League One
For the bulk of Donald Love's stint learning his trade in the Manchester United academy, Sunderland were an established Premier League side.
Relegation last summer ended a decade-long spell at the top table, with the club now battling a successive relegation to League One.
For anyone associated with Sunderland that is unthinkable and Love admits it is a ‘scary’ prospect.
The word relegation hasn’t been banned at the Academy of Light, the right-back admitting there is no point shying away from the challenge which the players should instead use as motivation.
And Love, 23, insists team spirit remains as strong as ever, with a resilience and determination within the squad that they will get out of trouble.
Second-bottom Sunderland are two points adrift of safety. The clock is ticking with just 16 games remaining.
When quizzed on the club’s perilous league position, Love said: “It is a scary thought because Sunderland had always been in the Premier League when I was growing up.
“All I’ve known is Sunderland in the Premier League – nobody expected us to be where we are now.
“We need to get ourselves out of it. It is down to us as a group of players.
“There is nothing wrong with the team spirit. Spirits are high.
“You can see the quality in training, everybody is buzzing around. We need to transfer that from training to matches.
“You try not to look at the table, especially at the start of the year because there are a lot of games to be played.
“When it starts getting closer to the end of the season, we didn’t think we’d be in this position but we need to get ourselves out of it.”
With 30 games gone – and only five league wins so far – clearly the time for talking has passed.
Love, signed by David Moyes in the summer of 2016, admits it is make or break time for Sunderland, who visit play-off hopefuls Bristol City tomorrow.
“Yes, definitely. Everybody needs to step up and do their jobs and make sure this club doesn’t drop down to League One,” added Love.
“We do that by stopping this win one game, lose a few, and start winning every game and build a winning mentality.
“It is down to us. The fans support us every week, we need to keep them behind us by winning matches.
“Hopefully fresh faces will help bring that winning mentality. We are the big fish in this league and everyone wants to beat us.
“We need to step up to the plate and beat these teams that are stepping it up against us.
“We need to up our game and make sure we beat them.”
Coleman has done much to raise spirits within the squad and at the training base, with nobody shying away from the situation.
When asked whether the squad has team meetings away from the manager, Love added: “We don’t have meetings as such but we all talk football all the time.
“Everyone in training, that’s when everyone gets serious.
“We all know our jobs on matchdays, we need to start doing it.
“The word relegation isn’t banned. Obviously it is in the back of people’s minds, but we should be thinking about it.
“If we think about it then we will get out of it, everyone focusing a lot more.”
Despite the bleak situation facing Sunderland, confidence remains high. How so after such a poor campaign?
“Even the new lads, everyone has stepped up their game in training and looked a lot sharper,” added Love.
“We have the quality in training, we need to show it in matches.
“That is what frustrates us as players, we know we can do it. We need to keep doing what we’re doing.”
“It is not a hangover from last year but it happened quite a bit last year and even though we have a whole new squad it seems to keep happening.”
Love, who has started six games under Coleman, was an unused sub for the 2-0 home defeat to Ipswich Town last week.
Coleman is the third manager Love has played under in just 18 months at Sunderland, following Moyes and Simon Grayson. It’s another manager to impress.
Love added: “It is getting used to the way they work and how they want to play.
“This manager has changed quite a bit by going five at the back and it has worked in most of the games. We need to make sure it works in every game.
“Training is intense. When he first came in, and still now, the training is a lot more game based and we have a game plan going into the game.
“Everyone knows their jobs, it is about doing it on matchday.”
Love added: “The gaffer has a lot of fresh new ideas, you can see that when he first came in.
“We need to put his plans into action out on the pitch, every time we have managed that we have won or got a positive result.”