A WINNING start to 2018 could give Sunderland a huge boost in their battle for Championship survival, says Irish midfielder Darron Gibson.

Sunderland hauled themselves out of the relegation zone following Saturday’s hard-earned win at Nottingham Forest. A performance that was a huge improvement on Boxing Day’s defeat at the hands of Sheffield United.

The Black Cats host fellow strugglers Barnsley at the Stadium of Light today and are attempting to win back-to-back games in the league for the first time this season. If they do manage to avenge August’s 3-0 reverse at Oakwell they will leapfrog Barnsley and hope to put breathing space between themselves and the bottom three.

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Gibson said: “It could be a real turning point. It will give us a lot of confidence to win on Monday. If we can win two on the spin and jump a couple of places up the table the confidence builds a bit and we can kick on from there. It’ll be a tough ask on Monday but we’ll have to be ready for it.

“The schedule’s tough but it’s the same for everyone, every team’s got the same amount of games in this period so we just have to try and recover and hopefully we can perform again on Monday.

“I think we all know as a group Tuesday wasn’t good enough. We needed a reaction and I think we showed that.

“In the first half I thought we were very good on the ball and defensively. In the second half I thought we probably dropped a little bit deeper but I think overall we deserved the win.

“Every game’s nerve-wracking when you’re in the position we are. Sometimes when you go in front you get a bit nervous and you start to drop deep, which we did. But I think we defended a lot better than on Tuesday.

“They hit the post towards the end and they had a couple of half-chances but apart from that we were comfortable defending, we looked comfortable in our own box. They had a lot of ball wide in the second half but we were comfortable.”

Gibson earned praise from Coleman for his performance at the City Ground where he was key to shielding the defence and making sure Sunderland made the most of their limited supply of possession. The ex-Manchester United midfielder says he is thriving under Coleman’s stewardship of the club.

He has been an ever present under the new manager but admits that the festive period is taking a toll on his 30-year-old legs.

Gibson said: “The way the gaffer wants to play suits me down to the ground. He wants to pass the ball and he wants the midfielders to try and get on the ball and use it so it suits me, I’m enjoying it at the minute.

“I’ll be all right. I’ll do my best to get through it. The whole squad is in the same position. It’s tough to play basically two games in two days but we knew it was coming. We just have to get on with it.”

Sunderland could have Paddy McNair available today, while Tyias Browning will be monitored after playing through the pain barrier with a swollen foot at the City Ground.