SIMON GRAYSON remains confident his Sunderland squad can turn their nose-diving form around, despite last night’s 1-0 defeat to Nottingham Forest having left them just one point clear of the Championship relegation zone.

Daryl Murphy’s 86th-minute finish condemned the Black Cats to a second home defeat in the space of four days, and means they are still searching for their first home win of 2017.

A game that was largely devoid of chances appeared to be drifting to a goalless draw until Tyias Browning’s error gave Murphy his first chance of the evening, and the former Sunderland and Newcastle striker made no mistake as he found the bottom corner of the net.

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The result means Sunderland have now suffered four league defeats in succession, but Grayson is adamant his shoe-string squad is capable of hauling themselves back up the table.

“The players are more disappointed than recently because they know they didn’t deserve that,” said the Sunderland boss. “I’ve told them they have to remain positive, and take the positives out of the game.

“There were some good individual performances. The players didn’t go missing, and didn’t want to not get on the ball. They tried to make things happen. It would have been easy to hide after a couple of disappointing results, but they had a go.

“They ran around, passed the ball and defended when we needed to defend. We were the dominant team, but when things are going against you, they certainly do.

“Sometimes when you’re in this position, you don’t get the breaks you deserve. But it can change very quickly and I’m still very confident in this group of players because you could see what they can do.”

Grayson was extremely critical of his players in the wake of Saturday’s 2-1 home defeat to Sheffield United, but his mood last night was much less downbeat.

There were positive aspects to Sunderland’s display, with Callum McManaman and Jonny Williams posing a threat from midfield and the back four rarely being tested prior to Murphy’s late winner.

However, Browning’s error scuppered any prior good work, and the Black Cats’ failure to really test Forest goalkeeper Jordan Smith was a major concern. Having failed to find the target last night, Sunderland have only managed one goal in their last four league matches.

“It’s probably the most frustrating result we’ve had because we didn’t deserve to lose that game,” maintained Grayson. “I thought the players responded from Saturday and showed a lot of bravery with and without the ball, which we asked them to do.

“They responded in a confident manner from the weekend’s result, and it’s a big kick in the teeth when you lose a game like that because we didn’t deserve that. It happened though.

“We didn’t get the breaks when we wanted them, with things falling in the 18-yard box, and the one mistake we made over the whole of the course of the night, we got punished for it.

“When you’re losing games, that can happen, and unfortunately it’s happened tonight. But there were a lot of positive signs from the team and I was really pleased with how they responded from Saturday.”

The result was not the only negative from a Sunderland point of view, with Lewis Grabban suffering a hamstring injury that forced him off before the break.

The striker was unable to continue after an extensive period of treatment, and is already a major doubt for Saturday’s trip to Hull City. However, it is hoped Duncan Watmore will be available for the trip to the KCOM Stadium.

“It looks like he’s tweaked his hamstring, so we’ll have to see the severity of it in the morning,” said Grayson. “It will be a blow if he is out for a while because he is a good player, but I thought the rest of the team who were out there at that particular time were doing well as well.

“We’ve got (Aiden) McGeady to come back and Watmore is hopefully coming back at the weekend, so we’ve got options. But we’ll see where things go.”

Murphy’s winner came seven-and-a-half years after he left Sunderland to join Ipswich, and proved his goalscoring instincts remain as well-honed as ever even though he will turn 35 in March.

“Daryl offers you a physical threat, but he’s also a very good technical player,” said Forest boss Mark Warburton. “He did a very good job for the team, and we would have wanted that chance to fall to him.

“It was a very good win for us. There’s no doubt that both teams were on the back of a bad result, and I thought both teams played with a bit of fear.

“We thought Sunderland would come out hard and fast, and they did, but we dealt with that. We had to defend our goal with a passion, and then we were gradually able to play a bit more ourselves.”