STEVE CALDWELL believes Sunderland can't afford any more slips-ups if they are to gain automatic promotion to the Premiership this season.

With Ipswich and Preston battling out a 1-1 draw on Friday night and Wigan comprehensively defeating Leeds, the Black Cats could ill-afford a slip-up at the Withdean Stadium on Saturday.

Unfortunately Mick McCarthy's side slumped to a disappointing reverse and now find themselves three points adrift of second-placed Wigan and six behind top of the table Ipswich.

"We had to come to Brighton and win," said the 24-year-old defender. "We did not play well but there is not much else to say about it. It was very disappointing.

"We just have to pick ourselves up and move on and remember there are 13 more games left to play. It is still possible but we can not afford any more slip-ups."

The big Scot admitted Sunderland were not at their best but was at a loss to explain why they performed so poorly against the Seagulls.

"It's hard immediately what to remember after the game but I think I'll we have to go home and think about it," reflected the Black Cats' stopper. "Maybe in a couple of days it will be easier to come up with a response.

"They were beating us to every ball, we were second best physically and there wasn't a lot of football played.

"When they had a man sent off we felt we could push on, and to not do it against ten men is very disappointing."

Despite the Wearsiders' lacklustre first half performance the former Newcastle defender revealed there were no broken teacups in the visitors' dressing room at half time.

"Sometimes harsh words are not the way and the manager knows that as well as anyone," said Caldwell. "It was a case of trying to make sure we improved our performance. We still thought we had a great chance to win the game - never mind getting a draw."

Caldwell was keen not to reflect on his side's poor performance, and said the players must look to put things right - starting with tomorrow's game against bottom club Rotherham at the Stadium of Light.

He said: "We can not have been any worse in the second half so it is a slight positive. We did pass it better but we were playing against ten men.

"We did the same at Preston but, as was the case then, the damage was done. I cannot pin point what went wrong but we can't afford to let it happen again.

"If we don't win these two games (this week) it is possible to go up but we feel as if we have to win them. We also have to come to places like Brighton and win which we didn't at the weekend."

Despite the set back on Saturday Caldwell still feels the Championship won't be decided until April when Sunderland have to face Wigan, Reading and Ipswich in consecutive weeks.

"It's likely that we will have to go to places like Ipswich and Wigan and get victories but that's a long way down the line," he said.

"We just have to make sure we get back to winning ways against Rotherham this week.

"This is a crucial time. It's the pressure and the joy of being in this situation. It's brilliant and we have to relish it and respond and give more in our performances.

"But we have to make sure it doesn't happen again. We can't afford these slip-ups."

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