CHRIS COLEMAN has challenged Sunderland’s players to follow Lee Cattermole’s lead and prove they are not afraid of meeting the fight against relegation head on in the remaining few months of the season.

Cattermole has not had the smoothest of eight-and-a-half years on Wearside because a long list of injuries have prevented him from finding top gear on a consistent basis.

But when the 29-year-old is in full flow he has the sort of character and bravery to make Sunderland a much stronger unit and his second half performance on Saturday at Bristol City highlighted all of his assets.

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Cattermole drove Sunderland back into the game at Ashton Gate, having emerged from the dressing room at half-time with the desire to spark a revival and his performance in the middle set the tone for a thrilling comeback from three goals down.

The former Middlesbrough midfielder was surrounded by young players and that will be the case for the rest of the campaign, so Coleman knows how important Cattermole’s drive and determination is going to be in the battle to say up.

“You know about Lee Cattermole when he’s not there. He’s a miss,” said Coleman. “He takes loads of flak because he has been here a long time, he’s as North-East boy and he’s been relegated with us and he’s been the captain and so when he makes mistakes it’s maybe because he never ducks a thing.

“He is probably on the ball more than most but in the second half he drove it from the centre of the park at Bristol. That aggression he had and that driving on, the dragging players around, was vital.

“We’ve got some new faces and some young players and the senior boys need to lead. And tell them where and when because half the time they can’t hear what I’m saying on the other side of the pitch.

“Even the boys close to me sometimes can’t hear me. It has to be driven from on the pitch. The second half revival came from Catts - he led the charge.”

Sunderland’s inexperienced squad has found it hard to climb away from the Championship’s relegation zone, and it looked like being another of those days when they collapsed and fell three goals down at Ashton Gate.

Coleman accepts relegation will be on the cards if he can’t engineer a fighting spirit like there was in the second half, and is looking for the youngsters to prove they are ready to make an impression.

The manager said: “Lee will play a vital role in the rest of the season but they have all got to take the responsibility. They have to follow his example. Just don’t duck it, not be afraid.

“Don’t be frightened. Of what? Let’s say the worst case scenario happens and you lose a game of football it can be worse than that if you don’t show up. That is the worst case scenario because that feeling is dreadful.

“So we can’t have that. It’s simple and old-fashioned but just show up and have a go. That’s what it is.”

Sunderland head into this weekend’s visit of Brentford to the Stadium of Light three points adrift of safety.

It is hoped the unity between the fans and the team at the end of Saturday’s game will have a positive effect on home soil.

Coleman said: “I’ll be smiling, I’ll be upbeat because we’ve got a point and I think if it was 0-0 and we’d defended for 90 minutes it would have felt different. But we came and had a go and it got us back into the game so I’m pleased with that.

“At Cardiff we went down with a whimper. It was a classic example. We were fine for the first 45 minutes but a minute after half-time we’re 1-0 down. So that’s where we got back to mentality.

“When we are defending and we concede from a set-play in the first five minutes it’s very simple - we don’t defend it aggressively enough. We have to give everything to keep the ball out of the net and move forward from there.”