MIKE Dodds insists he still believes Sunderland can force their way into the Championship's top six, despite the fact the Black Cats are now eight points shy of the play-off places after three successive defeats.

Dodds' third stint as interim boss started with a disappointing home loss at Swansea City on Saturday, with Sunderland paying the price for a dreadful first half display.

That followed away defeats at Huddersfield Town and Birmingham City which cost Michael Beale his job, and a repeat of last season's top six finish is looking increasingly unlikely - but Dodds insists he hasn't given up hope.

"There are still 12 games to go and I am going to be really naturally optimistic because I know we have some really good players," he said.

"The result today isn't going to help the push for the top six but we still have 12 games to go, I'm still confident in the way we work, I'm still confident in terms of the group we've got."


Saturday's defeat continued the trend of Sunderland failing to put together two good halves. Dodds was pleased with the second half showing but the Black Cats were shambolic before the break.

"That first half performance isn't a Mike Dodds team and the second half is what we all want to see," he said.

"I'll have to watch the game back, the bit that I need a bit more clarity on is we set up to be more aggressive in the first half but for whatever reason they had too much control and created too many chances. It was a really poor 45 minutes, really poor.

"We changed in the second half and went more reserved but actually looked more aggressive.

"I can see where we fell short and that's something that we - staff and players - have to take on the chin. I'm looking forward to having a really good week with them and I'm looking forward to the next few games."

The next few games look tough. It's play-off chasing Norwich next week followed by league leaders Leicester and then comes a trip to Southampton. Asked whether that trio of games are make or break for Sunderland's season, Dodds said: "Not from my perspective. I have a level of self confidence. I'm disappointed with the first half, naturally, but I have a full week with them and I'm looking forward to the three games.

"We know what they'll be, roughly how they set up and what we're going into. We just have to perform better than we did in that first 45. That's something I'm confident we can address."