AS Bryan Oviedo and Donald Love stood on benches at the opposite ends of a school hall, pupils from Jarrow, Tyne & Wear, bounced around below, happy to be playing handball with two Sunderland players who even shared a smile themselves.

Six defeats from their last eight matches have increased the chances of relegation to League One and knocked the Black Cats out of the FA Cup at the third round stage.

Sunderland’s professionals are performing, poorly, in front of a half-empty Stadium of Light on a regular basis and owner Ellis Short is not prepared to invest any more money in a debt-ridden club he would like to sell.

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Sunderland’s players and manager, Chris Coleman, are certainly not ready to accept a drop into the third tier of English football; and that was the message when Oviedo and Love mixed with young fans at Jarrow’s St Matthew’s Roman Catholic Primary yesterday.

The two players were guests as part of a Foundation of Light event in conjunction with Tesco Bank Junior Players, that latest of the club’s charitable community programme dating back long before this season’s latest depressing story on the pitch.

Sunderland, sitting two points shy of safety and four adrift of 20th, have 16 games to save themselves. A club with a 48,000-capacity stadium, graced by stars on the Premier League and international stage for years, is on the verge of an unthinkable drop out of the Championship.

Social media has been awash with debate in recent days, with supporters split on whether it is the right time to come up with a protest – aside from the apathetic one with their feet which has seen thousands not turn up for home dates.

“It’s a difficult moment but we need to change that,” said Oviedo. “Sometimes it can be mentally, everyone around the club has to be positive.

“It can be negative when you get results like we have had, and you can understand that, you see it in the media, or some people talking about Sunderland as not being a great club.

“I believe Sunderland is a great club in all aspects. It is a very professional club, with a fantastic stadium, a fantastic training ground, and the players need to be together more than ever before.”

But Oviedo knows it is not just the players who need to pull together. He claims on a daily basis they are working on transforming the ailing club’s fortunes after a decade in the top-flight on the training pitch.

It is the unified front he wants everyone to work on during the weeks ahead, knowing that after this weekend’s trip to play-off chasers Bristol City they have a trip to relegation contenders Bolton sandwiched either side of home games against Brentford and Middlesbrough.

His mere presence in the club crest at St Matthew’s yesterday brought smiles to pupils’ faces. He would love for him and his team-mates to make a few more people satisfied with what they serve up at the Stadium of Light on a regular basis.

Oviedo said: “It’s nice to come to places like this (the school), to see the kids happy. That’s important for me coming here when times are bad to see them still happy to see us.

“We know we are worried about our position, I would like to come back again when the situation at the club is happier too.

“The fans have a reason to be unhappy at the moment. We are in a position where nobody would like to be. It is difficult.

“This is not the moment to be all fighting, it’s about being together. I know it is difficult but we need to stay together. Sunderland is not just about the players, or the fans, it’s about everyone, it’s all around us.

“All of those things have made great times before, at the moment it is not like before but this is not when we should be pointing the finger, it’s more the time for being together, fighting together – right now.”

Oviedo has got used to being surrounded by younger people in recent months because Coleman has had to turn to look to the academy more than he had expected to. The Costa Rican, despite being only 27 himself, is one of the older players in the Sunderland squad. He wants to put that experience to good use.

The former Everton man said: “It’s not just about experience. Even if you are young or old you have to play and do well. We are not where we want to be. That includes all the team, not just me or another player. You can’t win games alone, it’s the team. We need everyone to be pulling in the same way.

“We need to fight in matches, but not just when we are 3-0 down – we have to do it at the start of the games. In the last game we started very well, we had two or three very good opportunities, but we didn't score and after that we conceded two goals.

“We have to react. We are a very good team, I think. We have everything – a fantastic stadium, a fantastic training ground, and fans who support us every time. We have to be honest, sometimes we do not show 100 per cent of what we can do. I think everyone, including me, needs to change the things we are doing wrong and change it right now.”

If Oviedo can deliver and help to keep Sunderland up then it would be the perfect way to head into this year’s World Cup with Costa Rica.

He said: “I am not thinking about the summer. At the moment the most important thing for me is to play in every game.

“The World Cup is very important, of course, but my head is 100 per cent focused on Sunderland and trying to do the best I can to help us get out of the situation we are in. I hope that everyone can stick together and fight for that.”