SIMON GRAYSON claims Sunderland’s 1-1 draw with QPR was a ‘step in the right direction’, even though it extended the club’s seemingly endless wait for a home victory.

The Black Cats’ last success at the Stadium of Light was a 1-0 win over Watford on December 17, and since then, the club have played 17 home matches without claiming all three points.

It is a dreadful record, and is the prime reason why Sunderland find themselves just one place and three points above the foot of the Championship table, and the chorus of boos that accompanied the final whistle confirmed the extent of the frustration amongst the home fans. The rows and rows of empty seats also highlighted the understandable lack of enthusiasm on Wearside at the moment.

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Grayson accepts he is having to navigate an extremely difficult spell, but insists it is possible to discern small steps of progress. Whether the fans would agree with that assessment is a different matter, but Sunderland’s manager is refusing to be too concerned with his side’s league position.

“The position will only become a worry when you’re still in it and it’s mathematically impossible to catch the teams above you,” said Grayson, who has guided his side to just one league victory from his 12 games in charge.

“We want to win games, but I’ve said to the players that this was never going to be a walk in the park – not for me, not for anybody playing for this club, and not for the supporters either.

“It’s a tough ask in the Championship, and it’s tough for this football club at this moment in time, but sometimes it’s about taking small steps. Sometimes, small steps that you build along the way, like the Preston result and performance and bits in this game as well, can ultimately lead to bigger steps in the future.”

Grayson’s attempts to accentuate the positives are understandable, but Saturday felt like another game where the disconnect between the club and its fan base grew. The home supporters were fully behind their side in the opening stages, but a string of misplaced passes at the start of the second half was greeted with undisguised anger.

There was a bout of ironic cheering when Sunderland’s players finally passed the ball to feet in the build-up to Aiden McGeady’s goal, and while the Irishman’s strike was greeted euphorically, there was more sustained booing at full-time.

Grayson understands the unhappiness, and is clearly reluctant to start criticising his own fans. There is, however, an acceptance that it cannot be easy for players to demand possession or take a risk when the crowd are ready to turn.

“It’s tough,” said the Black Cats boss. “I’ve played in games and teams where I’ve had criticism myself, and it does affect players. All I can say is, ‘Please stay with the team’, because we’re all in this together. Stay with us because we’re going to take this team forward.

“The players are here for footballing reasons, and not for other reasons that might have been the case in the past. They’re here because they want to give everything for this football club.

“I don’t think there’s been a spell in any game where the players have not tried to get something out of the game. Obviously, a little bit of quality has been lacking at times because of the confidence levels not being where we would want them to be. When this team gets results, you’ll see a different group because of what confidence levels can do to people.”

Grayson’s plans for Saturday’s game were scuppered in the week when Tyias Browning suffered an injury in training and Lamine Kone was laid low with a bout of sickness and diarrhoea. Both players should be available for Saturday’s trip to Brentford, with Marc Wilson also due to return to training later this week.

Duncan Watmore showed no ill effects from his first start for ten months, which was a positive development, and Grayson was also able to welcome Lewis Grabban back into the fold after a month-long absence because of a hamstring injury.

“We’ve seen what Lewis is capable of,” he said. “He’s a goalscorer, and he has good link-up play. But he’s had a week’s training. These 45 minutes will have done him the world of good, and he’ll get another week’s training now with us not having a Tuesday game. He’ll be stronger for this performance and the training he’ll get with us.”