JOHN O’SHEA always accepted life at Sunderland was never going to be like the glory years he enjoyed with Manchester United. What he never envisaged was the extent of the problems he would encounter so late in his career on Wearside.

After entering the twilight zone of a playing spell which started 19 years ago, in an ideal world any player would like to go out on a high. For that to happen for O’Shea, Chris Coleman has to work wonders before the Irish defender does eventually line up at the heart of the defence for the last time.

Sunderland are in a mess. The 36-year-old knows it and sees no point in disguising it. Coleman is doing his best to turn things around and a victory at Cardiff City today would see them climb off the foot of the table.

All too often this season Sunderland have threatened to turn things around, only to slip back into trouble. To escape the threat of falling into League One then a run of wins is required to put some daylight between themselves and the relegation zone.

Whether this squad is capable is very much doubted, particularly given the injury list and the lack of funds available from Ellis Short to Coleman to invest in the squad before the transfer window closes at the end of the month.

The situation the football club finds itself in is a far cry from O’Shea’s days as a Manchester United player; when his final appearance was to help Sir Alex Ferguson’s to victory over Chelsea at Old Trafford in 2011 that effectively sealed another Premier League title.

“It would be foolish of me to say that when I left Manchester United to come to Sunderland that I was thinking I would still be winning titles and cups and things. It was clear it would be a different challenge,” said O’Shea. How right he has been.

He added: “The club had just finished, after jumping a few places on the last day of the season, tenth. Stability wise I thought it would be a club around that area looking to kick on from that.

“But we are where we are now, seven years later, ten managers gone in between, with a frustrated owner, frustrated players and fans, and a lot of frustration around. You have to get on with it.”

There has been a relegation battle of some sort throughout O’Shea’s time in the North-East. While players have arrived and departed, the Irishman has been a constant and constantly stunned by things that have gone on – like witnessing players who have not wanted to fight for the cause.

Earlier this week admitted “there has been a lot more to it than that”.

O’Shea has not been excused of criticism either. Despite showing his commitment to playing and fighting to turn things around, he has been harshly accused by some over the years of not caring because of his successful background.

That could be not further from the truth. In fact, as Coleman suggested this week, he is actually holding the dressing room together.

To illustrate that point, during the worst season of them all so far as Sunderland prop up the Championship table, he has appeared in 22 of the team’s 30 matches in all competitions – despite being at an age when he should be taking things easier.

O’Shea said: “It’s part and parcel, you train for it and you have to be ready regardless of your age or who is playing. That’s the idea when you come to a team, you aim to do well, whoever is in the 11 or the match day squad, you have to be ready.

“When we have fully-fit healthy squads we are doing well, we are out of relegation zones. We have had a terrible runs in sense of injuries, players out injured, like Duncan Watmore who you can’t stress enough how important he was going to be for us.

“Other injuries we have had too, missing important players for large periods and that’s where the depth of your squad can help you out.

“I have stood up to it, the lads here, the sports science and medical department, have been great. I have been fortunate that the injuries I have had have been fairly minor in my career. I have always eaten well and trained well, something I have been brought up with, to look after myself. It’s part and parcel of being ready and if you can cope then great, if I couldn’t cope I would have told them.

“It’s not about me and my situation, or talking about what the future holds though. We have to make sure Sunderland is in the Championship and then I will worry about everything after that.”

O’Shea’s contract runs out this summer and by that time he will be 37. Keeping Sunderland up would now be a nice way to end a campaign that has already suffered the blow of knowing he will miss out on a World Cup appearance with Ireland this summer.

While that international heartache was hard to take, he has also found Sunderland’s plight unbearable. He can’t believe that a club this size, having moved with big ambitions seven summers ago, has fared so poorly in the second tier.

O’Shea said: “I would never have imagined it would have been that difficult this year. If you examine the players who have left since last season, it was going to be hard, but you are not expecting to be where you are, that’s for sure.

“I am not saying money would solve everything but it definitely would have helped when you look at some of the squads you are facing, the options they have. We feel we should still be higher up the table but it’s definitely a competitive league, the amount being spent in the Championship shows that."

While Sunderland have dropped back to the foot of the table ahead of today’s meeting with Cardiff, O’Shea thinks there are a lot more things to be positive about than there were a couple of months ago.

Having won just won of their opening 17 league games under Simon Grayson, Coleman has delivered three wins from his nine league matches in charge; they have lost four of those.

He said: “The way the Championship is, we could be out of the bottom three quickly. Our own objective in the club is to be out of there very soon.

“The manager is going to need help from the owner, fingers crossed he will get that. If he doesn’t then everyone here will have to step up, and hope the manager can do loans or whatever in the next couple of weeks. We have to do the best we can, look forward to the challenges ahead and push our chests out and be ready for it.

“As players we can understand that the manager has come to Sunderland when he was doing well with Wales, we have to take that as a compliment he has come to us. He thinks he can help us and we have to use that as a confidence builder, in the sense he has chosen Sunderland.

“He will have had other options but he has chosen Sunderland. We have to use that as a guide to think he has picked us, a great club, to use as a building block for himself to improve and get us going again.”

Coleman’s positive approach has certainly helped on Wearside. The players have warmed to him and there is a freshness about their play, and a desire to invest in the youth.

O’Shea is studying his coaching badges in the hope of one day stepping into frontline management and he thinks the whole Sunderland experience can help him moving forward – and he is determined to set a good example to all of the younger players looking for inspiration in testing times.

He said: “I try to look at all of the managers I have had and draw on things, that’s a big part of the learning curve. Managers will always say they face different challenges, that’s part and parcel. If you want to keep improving then you have to take things on board.

“It’s about your attitude, dedication to your profession and being prepared for matches. It’s about being a team player, doing what’s best for the team – and I’m focused on that.

“Obviously this has been my first season in the Championship, as I have watched, seen and heard about through friends. I know it is a competitive league but we need to get a bit of momentum going.

“You think you have turned the corner, but we just don’t seem to get the momentum going. Games are getting less and less and we need results. Together we can do it but we do need to keep going and believe that we can turn things around.”