Simon Grayson has reminded his players that reputation counts for nothing as they struggle to adjust to the demands of the Championship.
Sunderland’s wretched home record continued in a 2-1 defeat to Cardiff City on Saturday afternoon, leaving the Black Cats in the bottom three ahead of their trip to Portman Road.
A number of unheralded Bluebirds’ players caused Sunderland problems throughout, including midfielder Joe Ralls and winger Nathaniel Mendez-Laing.
Grayson said: “Reputations count for nothing, it’s performances that matter.
“It’s a kick up the backside, a reminder for the players, that they have to work.
“If you think you have to concentrate in the Premier League, it’s even more important in the Championship because of the intensity of this league, when there are more balls coming into the box and you have to fight for second balls.
“In the Premier League it is all in front of you and obviously you have to concentrate because you are up against better players, but in the Championship it is a different type of concentration because you are asked questions nearly every minute of every game.”
Many managers picking up a relegated side have pointed to the difficulties in keeping players motivated, and while Grayson has insisted he has a good group at the Stadium of Light, he admits they have struggled against sides eyeing a prize scalp.
The Black Cats boss also wants to see improved decision making across the pitch as individual errors continue to undermine the team. He said: “It can be a problem [motivation].
“If you look at the reverse, when I have been in charge of smaller clubs going to bigger clubs, you see them raise their game.
“That’s something we have to deal with. We have to raise our game instead because we are in the bottom three of this division.
“Regardless of who we are individually, collectively, as a team, we have to get results. We don’t want to use it as an excuse but we have been very unlucky on the injury front, we had probably five, six key players were out of the starting XI on Saturday. You take that out of any team, even four players, a Cardiff, Leeds, Wolves, it will make a difference.”
“The key point really is that our decision making has to better right across the pitch, from not making basic mistakes in the final third, defending your 18 yard box better, and making sure that we’re ruthless when we get a break and make chances,” he added.
“We’ve got to be better, individually the players have got to take responsibility for that as I do as well. We need to have players upping their games, I think if you were to grade a lot of them at this moment in time they’d be C, B-, if you’re going to get positive results you need B+ and A’s. They’ve shown moments in games, now it is about consistency.”
Grayson has himself faced criticism for returning to a system that has brought little success for Sunderland so far this season.
The five-man defence was quickly ditched against Cardiff but the Black Cats boss insists in time that he can make it a success.
“We just felt that Cardiff were getting the upper hand, and the goal gave them a lift and got them going,” he said.
“The players are comfortable playing that system but we haven’t had much time to work on it, and get it right like I have at other teams in the past.
“With 4-4-2 there is no grey area, so we changed it around.
“But it wasn’t the team or the system that I was going to play on Saturday morning before we were hit with the injuries and illnesses.
I think we need to do more work on it.
“We’re playing it because Ty Browning and Marc Wilson can go out into the wide areas and play as full-backs, which you need your centre-halves to be able to do if you are going to make that system work,” he added.
“I think it’s more a case of working on the wing-back areas, how much attacking they need to be doing and when they need to be back in position.
It’s not something we have done a lot, so it needs to be worked on.
“The problem is that the flow of games has been relentless and we’ve had hardly any time to work on the training pitch, it’s been play-recover, play-recover.
“Hopefully over the next few weeks if we get some of the players back and we can get some consistency in the selection and get a settled team, it will help with partnerships and confidence.”
“Whether you are going to play as a three or a four up front, you need key players to put more balls into the box.
“We have to work the opposition back four more.
“We’ve got into the habit of trying to play our way through teams rather than put more balls into the box – and the more balls you put into the box, sometimes the more mistakes the opposition make.”