CHRIS COLEMAN admits Sunderland have gone “back to square one” following their 3-0 home defeat to Aston Villa, and concedes his side will almost certainly have to win half of their remaining games to have any chance of avoiding relegation to League One.

The Black Cats remain rooted to the foot of the Championship table after goals from Lewis Grabban, James Chester and Conor Hourihane condemned them to an 18th defeat of a thoroughly miserable campaign.

With all of their relegation rivals also failing to pick up points, Sunderland remain four points adrift of safety with ten games remaining, but the manner of last night’s defeat was especially alarming, with Coleman’s side conceding a succession of sloppy goals as they failed to come close to matching their opponents.

Their previous three games, against Bolton, Middlesbrough and Millwall, had featured signs of an improvement, but last night’s performance was as poor as anything they have produced all season, leaving Coleman feeling both dejected and concerned.

“It’s a poor, poor night for us, and it’s back to the start really,” said the Sunderland boss. “The teams around us keep losing, and that’s the only light at the end of the tunnel. But we’ve been on such a poor run.

“In the last three games, I thought, ‘Right, this is a good turning point for us’. But we’ve gone straight back to square one.

“It’s hard to take when you give away goals like that. They are a good team Aston Villa, they’re not up there for nothing, and they’ll be there or thereabouts. You don’t have to give them goals, they can earn goals themselves.

“But we gave them goals. How many times have I had to watch us concede a second goal seconds before half-time? It’s a bitter pill to swallow for us.

“Before they scored, there wasn’t much in the game, but we gifted them goals and that’s a common theme. The game is done and dusted then.”

Not only are Sunderland four points adrift of safety – effectively five given their goal difference is markedly inferior to that of either Barnsley or Hull City – they have also played a game more than three of the four sides directly above them in the table.

They have claimed 28 points from their 36 games, a tally that means they will almost certainly have to pick up at least another 12 to 15 points to have any chance of surviving.

Going off previous seasons, Coleman admits they will probably have to win at least five of their remaining ten matches to avoid the drop, starting with this weekend’s trip to QPR. Given they have only claimed five league wins in the whole of the season, however, that would appear an unlikely proposition.

“If you look at the last ten years in the Championship, then to stay up, you’d be looking at between 45 and 50 points,” said Coleman, who lost both Tyias Browning and John O’Shea to injury during last night’s game. “That means we’d have to get at least another five or six wins.

“We’ve only won five games all season, but this club has done it before. It’s been seven points behind with six games to play, and pulled it out of the bag.

“So it’s not un-doable, but it’s painful at the minute. It’s brutal where you go on a run of games where you haven’t won, then you gift a team three points at home like we have. It’s pretty brutal to keep doing that, and it’s hard to keep coming out trying to explain it. It’s tough.”

Steve Bruce experienced his fair share of tough times at the Stadium of Light, but Sunderland’s fortunes have nosedived dramatically since he was dismissed six-and-a-half years ago.

The Aston Villa boss has watched the club’s subsequent decline from afar, and does not envisage a significant improvement until Ellis Short relinquishes control. Short remains keen to sell, but there is no sign of a buyer.

“I don't think sympathy's the right word,” said Bruce, whose Villa side have now won nine of their last 11 matches.  “I inherited a club with something similar.

“With us, it was a new owner, new direction, and that's what this club needs. There needs to be a change, they're finding it very difficult. It's a great club, but if you don't do it properly, you get in a mess. It doesn't matter whose name is on the door, it can escalate into what it is here today.

“I've looked at it from afar for a few years now, it's been coming and our club was the same. I would hope there's a bit of light for Sunderland supporters, it's from the top where it's got to go from though.”

Bruce was part of a constant churn of managers that saw Sunderland go through a succession of bosses before they eventually crashed out of the Premier League, and does not believe Coleman should bear any responsibility for the current mess.

“If Chris can't do it, then nobody can,” he said. “Changing managers is not the way forward in my opinion.”