Sam Allardyce believes his battling Sunderland side are reaping the rewards of a change in attitude on the pitch.
And he has thanked the fans for their patience off it as his side fight against the drop into the Championship.
Sunderland’s top flight status is dangling on a knife edge with third-bottom Cats a point from safety heading into the final five games of the campaign.
Allardyce admits the atmosphere on the terraces could have easily turned “volatile” – as has been the case at relegation rivals Aston Villa and Newcastle United before the appointment of Rafa Benitez.
The experienced 61-year-old puts it down to his ‘non-negotiable’ demand for a change in attitude from his players after he took charge from Dick Advocaat.
“We’ve been selling 45-46,000 and the atmosphere has been very good, and they have been trying to support the players,” said Allardyce, ahead of the visit of Arsenal to the Stadium of Light on Sunday.
“I’d have thought we might have had a few more disenchanted fans who might have expressed their vocal disapproval in matches.
“But they have seen a change in at least the attitude of the team, which was non-negotiable for me.
“If not, why play football? What are you doing here?
“Going out and playing with a great deal of effort is something the fans expect, and they want to see you trying your best.
“But when it looks like you’re not trying and it looks like you don’t care, that’s when it can turn quite volatile.”
Allardyce was fully aware that patience was beginning to wear thin before they ended a six-game run without a victory with the 3-0 win over Norwich City at Carrow Road.
Sunderland have only been beaten four times in the Premier League this calendar year but while performances had improved, they had struggled to convert good performances into points.
That changed against Norwich with Fabio Borini, Jermain Defoe and Duncan Watmore sealing only the seventh league win of the campaign.
Allardyce knows the key is to build on the Norwich victory when Arsene Wenger’s stuttering Arsenal side visit Wearside on Sunday lunchtime.
“We’ve kept on trying and trying our best, and achieving some really good performances, albeit without the results,” added the Sunderland boss.
“In the end, performances will take you a certain way with the fans, but in the end they want to see you win.”