CHRIS COLEMAN wants his players to prove why are professional footballers by delivering a performance he can be proud of when Sunderland look to overcome their nightmare after Christmas.

The Black Cats boss was left disgusted by the display at Sheffield United on Boxing Day when his team lacked cohesion, spirit and quality during the 3-0 crumbling.

It was a defeat and display that led to him telling them exactly what he thought in the dressing room at Bramall Lane afterwards, having also heard more than 2,000 travelling supporters boo them off the pitch.

He was not the only one to air off. He revealed that there were some home truths exchanged among the players and now the focus is on avoiding a repeat when they appear at the City Ground in front of another 2,000-strong sell-out away following.

Coleman is prepared to be brutally honest with his players, highlighted when he suggested there was a lack of fighting spirit and a sense of apathy in the performance in South Yorkshire – things he will never ever settle for.

“They have to be strong enough,” said Coleman, after being asked if the fragile dressing room he has inherited after relegation can handle the criticism.

“If you want to be in professional football, make a career out of it, then you will have times in your career like this and it is how you come through it. You can’t brush things under the carpet and hope they will go away. You have to be honest with it. Honest with ourselves.

“Ignoring things that are right in front of your face is when problems become insurmountable. I can’t have that.

“I would never attack the players, I know it is hard for them. We can all be better, you need a bit of honesty, transparency, clarity. If we are going to pick points up then we won’t if we play like we did at Sheffield United. That’s being brutally honest with each other.

“It’s easy to have a smiling dressing room, everyone is happy, everyone is nice to each other. I prefer a dressing room where they don’t like each other as much, and when the game comes around they dislike the opposition even more. We have to embrace the situation and take enjoyment from that.

“It wasn’t nice after Sheffield United. There were words said, not just by me. I haven’t a problem with that. But it’s been and done, gone.

“Now it’s about starting the games being angry and having that attitude. Whatever happens on a game day we know it will be hard for the opposition … that’s what it’s about. Sheffield United looked good on the day but we gave them a lot more than what we should have.”

After the angry exchanges in the away dressing room at Bramall Lane on Boxing Day, Coleman had the players in for a recovery day, gave them Thursday off and had the morning session to work with them again yesterday.

After everything that has been said, and his hopes that things have sank in, Coleman is looking to the future starting by demanding a strong display at Forest this afternoon.

He said: “There is such a quick turnaround in games at this time. It’s obvious that in a dressing room, with men and some young boys, that things are said. I am not giving away any secrets.

“There’s fights, this and that, whatever is said in there has to remain in there. The obvious thing now is that whatever was served up in that last game wasn’t good enough and we have to get ourselves ready. We do that. Talk is cheap and it is about being on the pitch and answering all the questions.”

What frustrated Coleman was the most was how poorly his team played at Sheffield United and at home to bottom club Birmingham a week ago, having showed real signs of progress beforehand since his appointment.

He said: “I was told about that before I arrived, the spike in performances. That’s the challenge for us. It’s the first time I had experienced it for myself. That has to be addressed for us.

“I can see why it has been so tough. We have to be putting undefeated runs together that’s longer than three games. You will lose a game and you will be knocked from time to time, it’s how you come back from that.

“We can go the other way and say this is a hopeless case, go and crawl under a rock and hope everyone leaves us alone to suffer. That’s not the way to do it. You have to find enjoyment in this particular challenge.

“You have to treat it for what it is. If you can come through and get out of it then that feeling is untouchable. When you come through that and prove people wrong it’s a brilliant feeling.”