CHRIS COLEMAN doesn’t strike you as a fervent student of German philosophy, but the new Sunderland boss has spent his first three days on Wearside channelling his inner Friedrich Nietzsche.

It was Nietzsche who first coined the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. Had he still been alive today, a glimpse at Sunderland’s fortunes in the last few months might have made him reassess his doctrine.

Devastating injuries, calamitous goalkeeping errors, defeat after defeat. If Sunderland are going to emerge from the other side of this having benefited from the experience, they might well be the strongest side in the country.

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Coleman knows the scale of the task he has taken on, but unlike David Moyes, and to a lesser extent Simon Grayson, he also knows that defeatism and despondency will only make things worse.

In his press conference in the wake of Tuesday’s 2-1 defeat to Aston Villa, he was urging his players not to feel sorry for themselves and insisting that team spirit is forged from adversity. In the privacy of the dressing room, he was saying exactly the same things.

If Sunderland’s players throw in the towel then League One beckons, so with Saturday’s game with Burton Albion, currently sitting two places clear of their weekend opponents, shaping up to be a crucial early test of Coleman’s ability to haul his side out of trouble, the former Wales boss is continuing to preach positivity.

He acknowledges the magnitude of the problems that exist, especially when it comes to his side’s injury list. But even at such an early stage of his reign, his players can sense a determination to forge strength from adversity.

“He’s been really positive,” said striker Lewis Grabban, whose goal on Tuesday night took him to ten for the season, a remarkable tally given Sunderland’s struggles. “He’s highlighted, as we already know, how difficult it’s going to be. We’re in a difficult spot, but we need to keep faith and hopefully we can turn it around.

“I think he’s going to build a close-knit team. He’s trying to get to know the players as well, and he’s trying to do that with everyone to see how certain people react in situations, and how he can get his information across at half-time. I think he’s just getting used to the team, and we’re getting used to him.”

Nurturing a strong team spirit was one of Coleman’s biggest successes during his time in charge of Wales. Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey might have provided a sprinkling of stardust, but what was most notable from last year’s run to the semi-finals of the European Championships was the way in which players likes Chris Gunter and Hal Robson-Kanu regularly played above themselves when they pulled on a red shirt.

Coleman needs to achieve a similar thing with Sunderland. At the moment, a team that looks reasonable on paper is proving much less than the sum of its parts when it gets onto the field. That has to change, and Coleman is also looking to adapt the way the Black Cats have been playing this season.

There were no radical alterations on Tuesday night, but the subtle shift to a 4-1-4-1 formation, with one holding midfielder instead of the two that had been playing under Grayson, hinted at a desire to be more adventurous with the ball.

Coleman spelled out the need to take risks in his first training session at the Academy of Light, and clearly wants to see his players providing more support to Grabban, who has found himself isolated on a number of occasions this season.

“It’s early days,” said Grabban. “He’s only really had one day, but obviously he likes to play on the deck. I prefer the ball to my feet and on the deck than higher balls, so it should suit me.

“He’s a footballing type of manager, and that’s been clear from the first day. To be honest, that is all he’s been able to get across in the one session. That, and his positivity as well.”

That tinkering proved insufficient to get a result at Villa Park, but even though his side slipped to their ninth defeat of the season, Grabban could still see improvements from the weekend draw with Millwall.

“I thought we did well in most spells of the game,” he said. “But it’s still early. The manager has come in and only had one session, but there were vast improvements from the last game so we have to take the positives.

“We didn’t get a clear-cut chance I would say. I still thought we built it up well around their box, but we had no real clear-cut chance in the first half. Hopefully, in the next few weeks, we’ll be able to do that.”