SUNDERLAND’S players want to prove to Chris Coleman they have the fight to lead a survival charge after being accused of turning in an apathetic performance at Bramall Lane on Boxing Day.

The Black Cats boss didn’t hold back in the dressing room or to the media after the final whistle had blown on his third defeat from his seven matches in charge at Sheffield United.

It was a result which left Sunderland in the bottom three and a performance he regarded as “dangerous” because of a lack of desire to deliver a positive result against the play-off contenders.

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Sunderland must now travel to Nottingham Forest on Saturday before starting the New Year with a home date against Barnsley. Having slipped back into the bottom three after a positive few weeks under Coleman, the next two fixtures have grown in significance again.

Dutch goalkeeper Robbin Ruiter has explained how there is a determination to prove they are up for the fight, despite such a woeful display on Tuesday.

Ruiter said: “Everything has been really positive in recent weeks. But I don’t think we are only going to make steps forward, as nice as that would be.

“In Holland we say ‘if you fall, you stand up’ every time. ‘If you fall seven, then stand up eight’. We fell enough this year but every time we have slipped we have to make sure we stand up. We certainly have to stand up on Saturday and take the points back to Sunderland.”

Having seen Coleman’s influence deliver a hard earned point at league leaders Wolves and then secure a first home win in 21 at the Stadium of Light by defeating Fulham, the manner of the performances against bottom club Birmingham and the Sheffield United is concerning.

Ruiter said: “If I would have known what was going wrong I would have told everyone on the pitch. I just don’t think we had the fighting spirit against Wolves. That was missing. We need to fight for every single ball or we are not good enough.

“Tell me why it wasn’t there? If I could say so then it would be easy to resolve. Tell me. I don’t know why. We have to be really critical of each other because we can learn from this. This might never happen again. We need to show what we did in the last couple of weeks but not at Sheffield United.”

The fighting spirit theme was used by Coleman too. He was disgusted by the lack of fight at Bramall Lane, where he sensed “apathy” in the team’s display.

Ruiter said: “If the manager had accepted that defeat and performance then it would be a bad thing, no one accepts this. Everyone is disappointed.

“The players have said things, the manager has said a few things, but what has been said will stay in the dressing room. We have to tell each other the truth.

“Everyone is disappointed. We have to show character on Saturday. If we get good results in the next two then it is a whole different world.”

Between now and Saturday when Sunderland travel to the City Ground, Coleman’s challenge is to lift his players after such a thoroughly depressing festive outing to South Yorkshire.

Ruiter said: “We have to look at ourselves and not our opponents. We have been busy, we have trained hard and we just didn’t do it at Sheffield United.

“We have to show character, but let’s not start to be negative all over again. We had a really tough start to the season, but when the new manager came in I think we have started to play better.

“This is the first time since he came in that we have played as badly as we did. We have to step up and be bright, show everyone that this was just one incident and we won’t be like this every week.”

Sunderland have plenty of injury problems already and Coleman will spend the next few days weighing up whether to risk Lewis Grabban and Didier Ndong. Both missed the trip to Sheffield with respective calf and ankle injuries and are being monitored.