EVEN though Phil Parkinson doesn’t pay much attention to social media, if he did he would see that many Sunderland fans have started to change their opinion of him.

This six-match unbeaten run, winning three of their last four, has breathed new life into the Black Cats’ hopes of celebrating promotion from League One this season.

There may well be plenty of work still to do on that front, given Sunderland have only just edged back to within a top six spot, but it is a start and the signs are encouraging. The challenge, of course is to stay in the mix, and even for the top two spot.

The manner in which Sunderland brushed leaders Wycombe aside under his watch last Saturday highlighted that they do have the quality to achieve their goals this season. No wonder then that some of the supporters who questioned his appointment are starting to think he can do the job after all.

And, just like he first told the directors when he was first interviewed for the post following Jack Ross’ sacking, he knows exactly what the Sunderland following want to see from the men in red and white.

“I have always been a manager who tries to find a way to play with the players I have got,” said Parkinson. “If you are in a relegation scrap sometimes you have to be pragmatic in the way you set up.

“In my interview when I first came here, I said I would love to send out a team with real legs and energy to press the opposition. I know our supporters will respond to that. We have shown that in patches but this is the first period of consistency we have under me.

“I can only tell you the truth and when I had that first interview I spoke about the team and this was what I wanted. The team needed to move towards real energy. We know we have a big pitch so you need running power and the supporters here want to see us on the front foot, pressing.

“I said that in the first interview with the board. As you go up the leagues you need more athleticism. We are getting that. There is room for improvement, but the minute you think you have cracked it is the minute you come unstuck.

“But this week when me and Steve Parkin, assistant, have been stood watching training, some of the quality, the desire to win in training has been great.”

There will be more than 4,000 Sunderland fans at MK Dons this afternoon for a League One match. It is a staggering amount and one that doesn’t surprise Parkinson, who got to savour and enjoy the atmosphere at Doncaster over the festive period when just under that figure backed Sunderland to victory.

He said: “It is fantastic. The Doncaster game was a great occasion to be part of, you don’t normally get the opportunity to take that many away fans at any level of football.

“In the Premier League it is difficult because tickets are limited, and it was a great atmosphere down there. We are looking forward to going down to MK this weekend, big stadium, with a similar amount. It can be a strange atmosphere sometimes down there to play in because there are so many empty seats. With our support we have to use that to our advantage and play like the home team.”

Parkinson went to Doncaster knowing the fans had started to turn on him, demanding him to be sacked after failing to beat Bolton on Boxing Day. Ironically, that Bolton draw was the first of this six match unbeaten run that has lifted Sunderland up the table again.

“I think there were a lot of elements in that Doncaster game, where we scored early, conceded, but the supporters stuck with us for playing well,” he said. “I could sense they could sense they knew what we were doing out on the pitch, they stayed with the team and they almost sucked the ball in the net.

“It was good to get that win and to see what positive impact our supporters could have on the team. You have to embrace the supporters. Every player we have will have wanted to come to Sunderland to come and play in front of the fans and for the big club with the level of support we have.

“As a manager I was the same. We have to use that to our advantage. We have to play in a way to lift the supporters and I am sure they will if we do, and hopefully we can do that on Saturday.”

Sunderland have slipped back out of the play-offs by a point, but there are only six points separating them from new leaders Rotherham.

Parkinson said: “I think as a team as the season progresses you have to improve and learn from experiences.

“I think that short-term target over the Christmas period was can we get on a run to get us closer? We have managed to achieve that so we have to be happy with that.

“In the past, I’ve done blocks of games but at the moment I’m more focused on every game putting all of our energy into every single game.

“The target is each day we get the most out of the players on the training pitch, and the preparation is right for each game. We’re just really focused on that at the moment.”