CHRIS COLEMAN has had to cancel Christmas this year – and the Sunderland manager could not be happier at his lack of festive fayre.

The Black Cats kick off a hectic festive schedule with a home game against the Championship’s bottom club, Birmingham City, this afternoon, buoyed by last week’s win over Fulham that ended a year-long wait for a success at the Stadium of Light.

Once today’s game is out of the way, Coleman will oversee training on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day before spending Christmas night travelling to a hotel ahead of Sunderland’s Boxing Day clash with Sheffield United.

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For the last five years, the Black Cats boss has been able to enjoy a family Christmas while in charge of Wales, with the international calendar effectively shutting down between November and March.

This year, he will barely see his nearest and dearest, but having jumped at the chance to return to club management when he was offered the Sunderland job last month, the 47-year-old is not about to start complaining about having to miss out on some turkey and presents.

“I’ve spent the last five years unwrapping presents on Christmas Day and wishing I was somewhere else,” said Coleman, who has guided Sunderland out of the relegation zone since taking over from Simon Grayson. “When I was a player, Christmas to me was just a word.

“I don’t mean to be negative. Christmas is great for everybody and they enjoy it, but it’s just football for me and I haven’t had this for so long now. It’s been five years in the house, and of course my wife thinks that’s the norm.

“This year, she’s going to find out what the norm actually is in my industry. You’re not at home, you’re away working. There’s games and travelling, there’s no Christmas dinner, but I’m delighted to be having all that.

“We’ve got the game (today), then we’re all in on Sunday. We’ll train together at five o’clock on Christmas night at the stadium, and then travel across to Sheffield. Then we play on Boxing Day. It’s great.

“The big plus is that I haven’t had to do any wrapping or anything like that. I’ve always hated that. I try my best, but I get a rollocking because it’s not a very good job. I’ve been able to remove myself from that pressure! Honestly, it’s great to be back in football over this period. Christmas Day is nice for my children and my family, but for me, it’s business. Three points, that’s where my thinking is.”

Sunderland only recorded back-to-back victories once in the whole of last season, with David Moyes’ side following up a November win at Bournemouth with a home success over Hull.

Since then, the winning feeling has proved extremely fleeting, but rather than trying to play down expectations in the wake of last weekend’s long-awaited home victory, Coleman is urging Sunderland’s supporters to start demanding success on a regular basis.

He wants a sense of entitlement to be evident at the Stadium of Light, and to that end, could hardly wish for better opponents this afternoon. Birmingham head to Wearside with the worst away record in the Championship – Steve Cotterill’s side have picked up just two points from their 11 league games away from St Andrew’s – and a win against the Blues could lift Sunderland four points clear of the bottom three.

“Since I’ve arrived, the people around the city have been fantastic,” said Coleman. “It’s easy to say, ‘Let’s not give them false hope’. Buy why not? Let’s give them something to hold on to and smile about.

“That means we’ve got to continuously raise our level. Let’s not go back to that, ‘Don’t get them excited’ – let’s get them excited. And let’s get them to demand off us, and then we’ve got to produce.

“I’ve got to produce and the players have to produce. Let’s keep the demands up there so that means we can’t go back, we can only go forwards. To do that, we have to keep producing performances.”

They will also have to show the same battling qualities they displayed against Fulham, with Coleman having been impressed with his players’ attitude in the five weeks they have spent together.

“We played some good stuff last weekend and created some chances,” he said. “But we had to play ugly at times and be ruthless. That’s how you get results in this league. Once you start climbing, you probably see more nice football. Where we are, we’re in a corner and we’re scrapping. But we’re throwing punches back instead of just taking them on the chin, and that’s a good start for us.”

Coleman welcomes Bryan Oviedo back into the squad for this afternoon’s game, but Lee Cattermole will be sidelined for up to a month after suffering a thigh injury and Paddy McNair will not be available until the home game with Barnsley on New Year’s Day.

“Bryan is back in the squad, which is a plus,” said the Sunderland boss. “But Lee Cattermole will be out for a month.

“He’s had his thigh scanned, and it’s shown up that there’s a strain and a tear there so he’s going to be out for a month. That’s obviously a big blow for us.

“Paddy McNair is not going to be ready for this weekend, but he’ll hopefully be ready for the Barnsley game.”