Sunderland must learn to relax at the Stadium of Light and their supporters can help, according to first-team coach Charlie Oatway.
The Black Cats have a 100% cup record from eight home matches this season, but have picked up six points from a possible 24 on Wearside since November’s victory over Manchester City.
With Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United their remaining opponents away from home, Sunderland need to put that record right quickly – starting with tonight’s televised visit of West Ham United.
Oatway believes part of the problem is the players are sometimes too tense to carry out Gustavo Poyet’s instructions.
He said: “They have to learn to relax with how we want to play.
“The fans might not be so used to the style of football we want to play. We had it at Brighton when Gus first came in, the fans maybe didn’t fully understand and they wanted us to play in a certain way.
“They wanted us to get it forward. Sometimes as fans we all have to buy into a philosophy and the players are no different.
“Even when the fans are screaming, ‘get it forward!’ we’ve not asked them to and there’s no point if there’s no one there to cross it into. The fans are going to have a big part to play on Mondayand in us staying up.”
Poyet preaches a patient style of football which often places greater emphasis on possession than attempts at goal. That is reflected in the Premier League’s worst home goalscoring record, with just 13 in 14 matches this season.
Their prospects of finding the net will at least be improved by the return of Fabio Borini.
The Italian was unable to feature in Wednesday’s 2-1 defeat at Anfield because he is on a season-long loan from Liverpool.
Sunderland’s last two home matches have seen them draw with Crystal Palace and lose to fellow relegation rivals Hull City.
They seem to be at their least confident at home to teams they should expect to beat, but Oatway does not think they have a psychological problem at the Stadium of Light.He added: “There have been missed opportunities at home, but you could say the same about games away from home.
“We had a chance to equalise at Liverpool, but we didn’t.
“That’s why we’re down at the bottom. We’re down there for a reason and we have to do anything possible now to stay up.
“If we get one extra percent from the fans then it can help but it also applies to the players too.
“Sometimes it’s technical. You can go through one-on-one and miss and that can cost you, but it could also be down to mental strength.
“We need to do everything in our power to make sure we stay up. Everyone has to give that bit extra and sing from the same hymn sheet.
“We knew it already with some of the results we’ve had here but now it’s more about getting the results against the teams around us.”
Poyet will consider retaining the 3-4-1-2 formation he tried for the first time as Sunderland manager at Anfield. The system worked extremely well in Wednesday’s final half-hour, albeit the Black Cats were trailing 2-0 by then.
The weekend results ensured even victory will not lift the Wearsiders out of the relegation zone, though they will still have a game in hand on the two teams directly above it.