DURING the most glorious spell of his career at Manchester United, John O'Shea learned how to win - and more often than not. Even when things were not going to plan, Sir Alex Ferguson's team tended to pick up the points.

With memories of such days in his mind, O'Shea suggests Sunderland's current malaise can only be put right through hard work. It might sound a typical response from a Premier League footballer, yet the experienced Black Cats defender insists that is the only solution.

"Consistency is the big thing we have to get back here," said O'Shea. "We are consistent about being inconsistent at the minute and that's something we have to change.

"We are more than capable of doing it and getting the confidence back in terms of winning games and going ahead in games. If we can do that soon then I am sure we will be fine. We have to do it sooner rather than later though."

It had seemed as if Sunderland's awful start to the season had been forgotten about when they won five of nine games through December and January to climb away from the Premier League's bottom three.

Losing their last three games - making it four without a win - has led to a worrying slide to within five points of the relegation zone ahead of this Saturday's visit of Fulham.

Important dates with bottom club Queens Park Rangers and Norwich City will follow and, having been part of notable recent slip ups against Reading and West Brom, O'Shea has outlined how he feels Sunderland can come good again.

"It's about the training, working hard, practising the free-kicks, offensively and defensively, the corners, strikers finishing and defenders blocking, tackling," said O'Shea, when asked how United have become so consistent for approaching two decades.

"There's a lot of things you can do during the week to improve your chances of becoming more consistent. Taking that first chance in the game, stopping that striker for the first time in a game.

"If you do those things in the week then you know if a chance comes at the weekend you will be at least prepared to take it properly. Those are things that if you are doing properly then eventually, maybe not straight away, things will turn and you will start to win games."

The spirit in the Sunderland dressing room has remained strong while form has gone through peaks and troughs this season. That remains the case and O'Shea insists there has never been finger-pointing between individuals for mistakes.

"We are a honest bunch of lads, if somebody comes in and says 'sorry' for this or that then they are told 'you don't have to be saying that'," said O'Shea. "If somebody scores a hat-trick, then all well and good, but behind it there's lads behind those goals who have put in the crosses, the balls. There's a good unit here and we have to keep that going. There are some big games ahead, starting with Fulham.

"Whatever has been going on there's a really good spirit. The manager at the moment, and the previous manager (Steve Bruce), that is one of the things they have been successful with.

"They have had a fantastic spirit in the dressing room and that has brought them success wherever they have been. That's been the key. If we can work on going ahead in games then we will be fine."

While Sunderland are still too close to the relegation zone for comfort, it is just as likely they can close the four point gap to the top ten in the next few weeks.

And having seen the success seventh-placed West Brom have enjoyed in the Premier League this season, O'Shea believes a strong finish to the campaign will stand them in good stead for a greater push up the table next time around.

The 31-year-old said: "Europe can be a goal in the next couple of years. There's lots of work ahead to get to that situation. The manager will feel there is improvement to come to the squad and he will hope to add to the squad in the summer as well.

"There's a definitely a case of - and looking at West Brom and their situation - that we are more than capable of doing what they have done if we can get a proper start to the season and maintaining consistency.

"We have other things first to think about. We are taking the relegation threat very seriously. We have come off in the last three games and thought 'how have we not got anything from these games'.

"The next thing you know there's eight or nine games left and we think 'here you go' relegation is not too far away. The sooner you get the wins on the board the better.

"We start with Fulham and that will not be easy because they are a very competent Premier League team. We need to get a result and we need to do all the right things. Scoring first would help."

  • Sunderland's young goalkeeper Jordan Pickford has joined Conference club Alfreton Town on loan for a month.

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