MAX POWER remains convinced Sunderland are capable of securing promotion this season – but the Black Cats skipper admits he and his team-mates have to transform their flatlining home form if they are to spark a successful surge into the top six.

Tuesday’s 2-1 defeat to Plymouth Argyle saw the Black Cats become the first club to lose a League One home game to the Pilgrims this season, and followed a pattern that has been depressingly familiar in recent weeks.

Lee Johnson’s side have now gone six home league games without a victory, a run that stretches back to early November, and while they have dominated possession in all of those matches, their inability to turn their superiority into goals has proved extremely damaging.

Sunderland are back at the Stadium of Light on Saturday when they host a Shrewsbury Town side that are unbeaten in their last five league away games, and Power concedes another slip-up could leave the Black Cats’ promotion hopes in tatters.

“I’m always in a positive mind-frame, and I still think we’ve got a real good chance of getting out of the division,” said the midfielder, who has found himself repositioned at right-back in the last few matches. “But we really need to get on top of this home form and start putting in those performances that we’ve been putting in away from home.

“We want to build momentum, and you look at the division and it’s still wide open. But we know the home form is an issue at this moment in time. We've not won enough games.

“In terms of moving forward, I think there’s enough players in that dressing room with enough experience, good players, a good mix of youth - you've seen the impact Jack Diamond has had - and we've got a good mixture of everything, in my opinion.”

Away from home, Sunderland have proved adept at hurting teams on the counter-attack, but with opponents much more circumspect about attacking when they visit the Stadium of Light, the Black Cats find themselves facing a different set of challenges when they line up at home.

As was the case on Tuesday, Sunderland tend to see plenty of the ball when they play on Wearside, but throughout their time in League One, they have struggled to unpick well-drilled, well-manned defences.

Conceding soft goals hardly helps the situation, and having got themselves back on to level terms at the start of the second half against Plymouth, Sunderland’ s defenders switched off from a throw in to allow Joe Edwards to claim what proved to be the winning strike.

Having fallen 2-1 behind, the Black Cats failed to build up a head of steam that might have enabled them to claim at least another equaliser, and Power has identified an issue he feels he and his team-mates need to learn how to overcome when they are playing at an empty Stadium of Light.

Not only does having to play behind-closed-doors deprive Sunderland’s players of the backing of the biggest crowd in the third tier, it also enables their opponents to run down the clock whenever the ball goes out of play, something that has become a major source of frustration in the last few weeks.

“The hardest thing with the stadium being empty is the amount of time the ball goes out of play when you’re trying to build momentum,” said Power. “(Tuesday) was no different than any game we've seen here this season. When we're chasing games, teams slow the game down.

“You can't blame them for that, it's clever play, but they’re taking their time on throw-ins and goal-kicks. We're giving teams the opportunity to do that, and that's something we need to eradicate from our game and try and keep in the ascendancy.”

Johnson’s arrival at the start of last month has not sparked the kind of immediate transformation that would have been hoped for when he was appointed as Phil Parkinson’s successor, although the effects of December’s Covid outbreak provide at least some mitigation for Sunderland’s recent mixed form.

Nevertheless, Power has been impressed with the new head coach’s ideas on the training ground, and is confident the changes of the last month-and-a-half will soon become evident via an upturn in results.

“He’s galvanised the place and there are real good signs,” said Power. “Now it's about putting it all together."