JACK BALDWIN claims Sunderland’s players have answered the questions that were asked of them at the start of the season, and convinced their promotion rivals they mean business as they look to secure an instant return to the Championship.

In the wake of last season’s relegation to the third tier, it was feared Sunderland would struggle to acclimatise to life in League One, and while Jack Ross made a point of signing a batch of players with experience of the division, he also inherited a large number who had never previously played outside the top two leagues.

Sunderland have not been flawless this term, but they have improved steadily and last weekend’s 3-0 win over Southend United made it four victories on the bounce.

That has lifted them to within three points of leaders Portsmouth – with a game in hand – and Baldwin feels he and his team-mates have comprehensively dispelled any suggestion that they would be soft touches in their new surrounds.

“Teams may have seen us come down and thought we’d try and strut our stuff in League One, but we’ve shown we can dig in and play the ugly way, it’s not all pretty football,” said the centre-half, who joined Sunderland from Peterborough United.

“At times we’ve had to dig in and defend for our lives, and as defenders, that’s what we love doing, putting our bodies on the line. I think that will instil some fear into other teams now that, ‘Actually, they mean business’. That’s what we’re here to do.”

Sunderland head to relegation-threatened Plymouth Argyle this weekend looking to extend their winning run, before the league programme takes a brief hiatus for the FA Cup first round.

The Black Cats have still only suffered one league defeat this season, and after a succession of seasons when losing became a habit, winning is becoming ingrained in the Sunderland psyche.

“We’re looked at as one of the favourites, if not the favourites in this league, so the question’s there week in, week out and we’ve got a group of boys that thrive on that,” said Baldwin. “Winning games is a habit, as is losing games, and we like to think we’re getting into a winning habit.

“Once those wheels get turning, it’s hard to stop, so it’s good that things are coming together defensively. Back-to-back clean sheets add a real solidity to our squad, and it’s a great platform and foundation for us.

“Winning games week in, week out is what we play football for. You don’t want to lose every week so we’ll enjoy it, but at the same time, we’ll get our heads down and prepare for the next one.”