Kevin Ball has reunited Sunderland but, says Craig Gardner, they now need to translate that into results.
The Black Cats host Manchester United this evening without a win in 10 Premier League matches, a run which began last season.
So while the versatile Gardner has been encouraged by the response to Ball’s appointment as caretaker manager, he knows unity alone is not enough.
“The spirit in the camp is really high now,” he said. “Bally’s come in and done brilliantly. He’s got all the lads buzzing again and the training’s been really good.
“You can see it from the togetherness in the last couple of games and we’ve got the performance that we were working on. It’s a shame we never got anything out of the Liverpool game. I thought we were the better team. The performance was really encouraging because Liverpool are a top-class team.
“Hopefully now we can kick on because we’ve got a really big game, and hopefully we can get a result.”
Ball took great encouragement from Sunderland’s performance in last week’s performance in a 3-1 defeat at home to Liverpool, but both he and Gardner have acknowledged something more substantial is needed with the Black Cats already four points from safety.
“We can play well every game of the season and lose,” said Gardner. “I’d rather play poorly and win – it’s all about getting points.
“But you’ve got to have a measurement of the performance as well.
“Hopefully we can get the performance we’ve been working on in training and the three points.
“It’s about time our luck changed and we started getting some results.”
His habit of harshly criticising his players in public and strict disciplinary approach made Paolo Di Canio a divisive figure in Sunderland’s dressing room, but the change in the two matches since Ball temporarily replaced him has been notable. It is why the former captain’s chances of taking the job permanently are improving even though results are not.
“Everyone needs to be behind everybody,” Gardner said. “Bally’s a great coach and knows exactly what he wants out of his (training) sessions. He’s a great man and everyone in the dressing room has got total respect for him.
“Bally’s come in and given us his best so in return we’re giving him our best. We’re absolutely running our socks off every day in training. All the lads are right behind him.
“We were 2-0 down (to Liverpool) and we could easily have been 2-0 up. Half-time, 2-0 down against Liverpool, people were probably thinking it would be three, four, five-nil. But we got the goal quite early, and had other chances we could have scored. We were chasing the game and they ended up scoring on the counter-attack.
“The fans clapped us off the pitch. I can’t remember the last time the fans clapped us off.
“All credit to Bally again, the team talk he gave at half-time was absolutely brilliant. All the lads were chomping at the bit to get out there again.”
The change has been more in mood than method.
“Training’s training at the end of the day,” commented Gardner. “But Bally’s come in and it’s about football, it’s just normal training. You know what he’s trying to get across and the players have the utmost respect for everybody.”
Tonight’s opponents have just two league wins since David Moyes took over as manager, and had a Champions League game in Ukraine on Wednesday.
“Man United are used to playing big games week in, week out, they’re a top-class team who’ve done it season after season,” said Gardner. “I can’t believe people are writing Manchester United off. Just because they’ve changed the manager, they haven’t changed the players.
“David Moyes is a top-class manager so we’re going to give him every bit of respect off the pitch, but as soon as the whistle blows we’re going to be hitting the ground running to run them into the ground.”
On-loan Fabio Borini is available, having been unable to face parent club Liverpool last week.