Chris Coleman says his Sunderland team need to produce top-10 form between now and the end of the season if they are to avoid relegation to League One.
The Black Cats face Bristol City this afternoon still just two points adrift of Barnsley in fourth-bottom spot.
However, the excellent form of Birmingham City and Bolton Wanderers has opened up a small gap in the race for survival and Coleman knows that Sunderland have to turn their season around sooner tather than later.
Crucially, they will have to show greater mental resilience, having not won a game this season once they have conceded the first goal.
Coleman said: “We are playing catch-up because we had won one in 17 at the start of the season.
“The form has to be better – it has to be top-10 form really to get away from trouble.
“It hasn’t been.
“We’ve threatened, but then we have not seen it through.
“We had gone a long time without winning at home, but we put that right. We can’t win back-to-back games, and we still haven’t done that.
“Gone 1-0 down and come back to win? We haven’t done that.
“It is breaking that psychological barrier.
“We did it when we finally won that home game, but what we haven’t done is break the one in terms of coming from behind to win.
“Every game it happens, the harder it then becomes because you get that negativity.
“You only break it through character and personality, not having that instant feeling of ‘there we go, 1-0 down’.
“The good thing is we’ve got 16 games to rectify it and to better it.”
Bristol City are looking to bring their own poor form to an end, having one just once in their last 10 games across all competitions.
Sunderland will need to improve their poor goalscoring form, having not score more than once in a game since the 2-0 win at Burton Albion in November.
Coleman said: “We have all these fights going on and it’s hard to win 1-0 every week. It’s very, very tough.
“But if that’s what we need to do, that’s what we need to do.
“If we have to score in the first minute and then fight for 89 minutes and it gets us a result ... it’s whatever gets us over the line.
“There have been a lot of barriers that we are trying to break down, and that is not easy.
“It’s doable but not easy.
“I was asked when I first arrived, 30 games to go, whether we were in a relegation fight and I said we will be if we’re still where we are further on. The reality has probably hit home to everybody, but the reality is also that we’re only two points behind and there are 16 games to go.
“We’ve been in the bottom three for about a month, beat Hull but never backed it up.
“So reality has gone ‘wallop’, and you can feel that huge negativity, it’s like being in a tornado. You can’t escape it, you have to be prepared to do what you need to do.”