WHEN Sunderland made the trip back up the M1 on the team coach seven days ago, there were smiles, a few jokes and even the playing cards were out. There have not been too many Saturday nights like that for the players this season, this year in fact.

For only the second time since dropping out of the Premeir League, the Black Cats had a victory to savour in the Championship. Three points that lifted them off the foot of the table and those have set them up nicely for a return to the Stadium of Light where they will look to win for the first time in almost a year today.

For Robbin Ruiter, winning at Burton also represented his first league win since signing as a free agent and helped to ease the memories of his costly mistakes that led to Sunderland failing to win for the 20th time in succession on home soil when Millwall made the trip to Wearside last month. That helped set an English league record.

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Having kept his first clean sheet as a Sunderland player at Burton too, he knows the lift in the changing room over the last week, combined with the appointment of Chris Coleman, has raised hopes things can finally improve at the Stadium of Light.

Ruiter, ahead of the game with Reading, said: “Of course it is a big difference to win. You’re on the coach for three/four hours, after a loss everyone is quiet, disappointment. After winning last week you play cards, everyone speaks with each other, so hopefully we can get a lot more wins and get that atmosphere on the bus more often.

“Every week it has been time to get that win at home. If you see the stadium, the fans, we should win most of the games at home. Unfortunately we haven’t. You could sense that with the supporters as well.

“If you see the position we were in and where we are, there are still 3,000 people for an away game, that’s amazing. It’s been hard times for them as well because this club is their lives for some of them.

“Some will think the players don’t really care about the club, but I can assure them that I really care even though I have only been here a couple of months. The fans are amazing, the club is. Of course I can imagine they will be critical. We will try our best and hopefully we can make that win at home.”

Ruiter was signed by Simon Grayson and liked him, so was keen to avoid drawing comparisons between the two managers he has worked with at Sunderland. He has been encouraged by the impact Coleman has had around the club, though, and feels his decision to take on the Sunderland challenge provides a reminder of the size of the club.

“He has done really well with the national Welsh team,” said Ruiter. “We were at the bottom of the league, relegated last year, and he’s still come from the Welsh national team, that says enough about the team. It is still such a big club.

“For example, if I speak to friends at home, they don’t understand how big this club is. Sometimes they come over to visit a game or stay with me for a weekend, sometimes I take them to the stadium or the training ground, they’re all surprised. If you compare to Holland, you compare it with Ajax, Feyenoord, PSV, the top clubs.

“Of course we’re not in that position at the moment but if you see the training ground, the stadium, the fans, it is a club that belongs in the Premier League.

“I have seen some games over the years, the stadium can be full of people and be amazing. It is disappointing it’s only half full but if we play better and better, the way we are trying to do now, I am sure it will come. Hopefully we can get our home wins which we are expected to do.”

Sunderland’s ability to persuade Coleman to take over when sitting at the foot of the Championship, with little money to spend on new players, is an indication that they still have pulling power. He could easily have waited for another job to come along, probably in the Premier League or top end of the second tier.

Ruiter said: “I don’t think we needed a reminder as players of how big the club was by seeing someone like the Wales manager come. But we’re all trying so hard.

“Cardiff at home, the penalty against us in the 84th minute, Millwall at home, we play well, I make a mistake. Nottingham Forest at home, we play well, Tyias Browning makes a mistake.

“Every time something happens, that is why we lost in the game. Sometimes we have been unlucky and sometimes it has been us, we haven’t had that bit of quality or that confidence to play the right way. Maybe the new manager helps us to get that confidence back and to play the way we can.”