PHIL PARKINSON admits Sunderland have to stamp out their sloppy starts after another early concession proved decisive in today’s 1-0 defeat to promotion rivals Coventry City.

For the second game in succession, the Black Cats conceded a goal in the opening five minutes, but unlike in last Tuesday’s home draw with Fleetwood Town, Parkinson’s players were unable to salvage an equaliser that would have enabled them to take something from the game.

Matty Godden’s second-minute strike proved decisive at St Andrew’s, lifting Coventry to the top of the League One table and opening up a six-point gap between the Sky Blues and Sunderland.

Parkinson’s side are four points adrift of the automatic-promotion positions with ten games to play, but their manager accepts they can forget about hauling themselves into the top two unless they cut out their poor opening periods.

“Obviously, we’ll look at it,” said the Sunderland boss. “It’s frustrating when it happens in back-to-back games. On Tuesday, we knew Fleetwood were going to be a team who sat back and stifled the game, they do that whatever the score is – that’s how they play. It was a perfect scenario for them.

“Today, in such a tight game, we’ve given them a huge lift. We’ll have a look at the manner of the goals we conceded and sit down with the lads and talk about them.

“It was just a lack of communication in and around our box, not quite getting our covering positions right, and we got punished for it. It’s very annoying after conceding early against Fleetwood too. We gave a good team a start in what was always going to be a tight game with very little in it. When you give a team a goal like that it gives them a huge lift.”

Having fallen behind just 95 seconds in, Sunderland matched their opponents for the rest of the game but were unable to create a really telling chance.

Luke O’Nien deflected Max Power’s long-range shot into the net from an offside position, and Tom Flanagan failed to find the target after getting on to the end of a couple of first-half set-pieces, but Parkinson admitted his players had lacked composure at crucial moments as they attempted to chase the game.

“I thought the effort was there, but I thought we were just a bit frantic and lacked a bit of quality,” he said. “We gave the ball away cheaply, and after conceding the goal, it was as though we tried to chase the game too early. We just needed a bit more calmness in our play.

“Some of the stuff was good, we switched the play at times, but our final ball and that little bit of care wasn’t quite there, and that’s what you need to create chances. We wanted to get back in the game, but there has to be a method and I just thought we were a bit hurried with the final pass. It was obviously a big game, a top-of-the-table clash live on TV, but I just felt it was a bit frantic.”

The majority of Saturday’s results went Sunderland’s way, with Rotherham, Wycombe, Peterborough and Ipswich all failing to win.

Coventry’s victory has strengthened their position, especially as they still have a game in hand on the Black Cats, but Sunderland will head into their final ten matches knowing they cannot afford too many more slip-ups if they are to remain in contention for a top-two place.

They return to action when they play Gillingham on Saturday, and do not face another of their promotion rivals until they host Peterborough on Easter Monday.

“We’re still in the mix,” said Parkinson. “We have to dust ourselves down after this, which we will do. We’ll get ready to go again on Saturday. The lads are disappointed, and so are the staff, but that’s football. You get knocked back and you’ve got to come back again fighting. That’s what we’ll do.

“We’d have taken this position around the Christmas period. As much as we’re disappointed with this, there’s plenty to play for and we need to be ready for the last ten games – I’m sure we will be.”