LEWIS GRABBAN has warned his Sunderland team-mates not to retreat into their shells despite the club’s perilous position in the Championship relegation zone, and called for ‘bravery on the ball’ even though it might risk the wrath of the fans.

Sunderland travel to Brentford this weekend looking to arrest a run of ten league games without a victory, a sequence that has generated a climate of doom and despondency on the back of last season’s relegation from the top-flight.

It cannot be easy to be a Sunderland player at the moment, with confidence on the floor and the crowd seemingly waiting for something to go wrong so they can voice their frustration.

In that atmosphere, it must be tempting to take the easy option and play a ‘safety-first’ game, but Grabban is adamant that bravery is the only way out of the current plight. Bravery on a football field can be linked to charging into a tackle or powering into a header, and that side of the game is clearly important. But bravery in possession can often be even more crucial, and it will be vital that Sunderland’s creative players continue to demand the ball and look to take a risk in their next few games.

“Sometimes, when things aren’t going well, the hardest thing is to be positive and take a risk,” said Grabban, who is set to make his first start for more than a month at Griffin Park after coming off the bench in the second half of last weekend’s 1-1 draw with QPR. “But that’s when you need everyone to be brave enough to do that.

“In my opinion, as a footballer, it’s a minimum that you should want to be on the ball. It isn’t always as easy as that, but you can’t hide away from things. I think we do have to be a bit braver, especially at home.

“We have to be prepared to try things, and look to dominate the ball a bit more. If we do that, let’s see where it takes us. Working hard is the easiest thing, and that’s another minimum we have to do. But we have to be ready to try things and be positive when we’re in possession. If you’re giving the ball away, keep going. Don’t worry about trying the same thing again.”

Unlike some of his team-mates, who were involved in Sunderland’s repeated battles against the drop in the top-flight, scrapping at the wrong end of the table is a relatively new experience for Grabban.

The 29-year-old was involved in Bournemouth’s climb through the leagues, and spent the second half of last season playing for a Reading side that were involved in the play-offs.

Sunderland are the tenth club of Grabban’s professional career, but his only other experience of a relegation place came at the start of his time with Bournemouth, when the club were in League One. The Cherries headed into the autumn of the 2012-13 season in the bottom three of the table, yet their form changed markedly as they embarked on a three-month unbeaten run and Grabban ended the season with 13 goals as his side won automatic promotion.

“It was a similar situation,” he said. “We were in the bottom three after 11 or 12 games – but then we ended up going on a massive run, we didn’t lose for something like 22 games. By the end of that, we were second in the league, so that just shows it is possible to turn things around.

“It’s just getting to that tipping point where things change. I’m not worried about relegation or anything like that – I don’t think that’s going to be an issue – but to try to achieve the aim of promotion, we’re going to have to start very, very soon.

“At that time, it was really just about cementing a style that we were going to play, week in, week out, and sticking to it. That was the key at Bournemouth. That’s what we did, and everyone knew their jobs. That kicked us on. It was similar to here – we had a good set of players there too, and the majority of them are still at the club in the Premier League. It is possible.”

Grabban’s return was one of the few positives to emerge from last weekend, with the striker showing no ill effects from the hamstring injury that sidelined him for a month.

Without Grabban to call on, Sunderland picked up just two points from four games, with his replacement, James Vaughan, failing to convince as a leader of the line.

“I’m very happy to be back in the team,” said Grabban. “It was a very quick turnaround considering it was quite a serious injury. I’ve worked hard with the physios over the last four-and-a-half weeks, and it was nice to get back on the pitch and start playing again.

“It’s been tough. It’s tough for anyone who’s not playing because you want to try to affect things, and I’ve just been wanting to help the team. There is definitely that element of frustration.”