OVER the last 11 months Darron Gibson has found life at Sunderland a lot more difficult than he had imagined. After being persuaded to sign by David Moyes, the former Everton midfielder has found life on Wearside tough - even if the recent signs are promising.

Gibson’s dogged determination in the centre of the pitch in front of the defence was a key factor in helping the Black Cats hold their nerve to secure a much-needed point at league leaders Wolves last weekend.

He has played in all four of Chris Coleman’s matches so far, starting three, and he feels like his 30-year-old body is starting to feel much fitter than he has for a number of years, having struggled for match fitness during a long period of inactivity at his former club.

What Gibson needs now is to maintain that progress, as he attempts to win over the fans who have been critical of his performances over the last 12 months – not helped by ‘that’ incident with some fans at Ramside Hall in July after a heavy pre-season defeat to Celtic.

He that only victories will help Sunderland’s cause this season. He is focused on helping steer the club out of the relegation zone and prove there are good players in the squad at Coleman’s disposal.

What would help to take that next step would be to finally end that wait for a home win. Gibson, having signed in January, was not even on the pay-roll when Sunderland last won at the Stadium of Light on December 17, 2016.

There would at least be an element of satisfaction felt if the players can avoid going a full calendar year without winning in front of their own fans by delivering three points against Fulham this Saturday – a whole day shy of that happening.

“We have to go in and do what the manager wants us to do, do what we have been doing over the last four games,” said Gibson. “Hopefully if we can get the tactics right and defend properly, and show more than them, we will get the result. We are not going into the game and thinking of the record and not winning. We will be going in and trying to build on the last performance.

“I will tell you the truth, I am not stupid enough … I know the fans are frustrated. They are going to be frustrated when you have not won at home for so long. They have to understand we are not going into the games to lose.

“As a group of players we are not going in to a game to lose. Our pride is taking a hit as well, and we are under pressure. I understand that sometimes as a fan it doesn’t feel that way.

“It’s not nice in the dressing room, especially the way it has gone up to now. There have been low points, very low points this season. We have to go into the game and be positive. We have to try to build on the last few performances.”

Sunderland have at least shown signs of improvements under Coleman, having finally won for the second time this season at Burton and then impressed at both Aston Villa and Wolves. Even against Reading they were decent initially until Callum McManaman’s red card rocked them.

Gibson said: “Under Simon Grayson there was a bit of pressure on us not to concede goals, it was a little bit negative. The new man has come in and everything is more positive, it’s about us needing to do this to beat them.

“He puts a positive spin on everything which gives us more confidence. Everyone has to get on the ball, everyone is more comfortable on the ball. You could say we are more expansive, spread out, but it still feels more comfortable.

“The way he wants to play suits me. I think it suits most of the squad because we have some good players who can play with the ball. We showed that against Aston Villa.

"Coming from not being very confident on the ball and trying to get rid of it, to suddenly switch it round and play from the back. Credit to the manager, he has come in and been positive straightaway.”

Despite the experience of coming through the ranks with Manchester United and moving to Everton, plus an international career with the Republic of Ireland, Gibson would not be human if criticism and poor performances didn’t affect him.

And it is easy to forget that this season has been the most Gibson has played for a number of years. Before joining Sunderland he had started just 12 games for Everton in three-and-a-half years after a serious knee injury.

He said: “I totally understand that fans have their own opinion and they are entitled to that. I don’t mean this in a bad way, but they don’t see what goes on in here all the time. They see what goes on, on the pitch and if I don’t look fit to them then they don’t know what I have been through.

“Before I came here I was out injured for a year with my knee. I didn’t get back in under Roberto Martinez at Everton. When I came here the physios were worried I would get injured again, so they held me back again.

“I am quite strong minded, this year they tried to hold me back in pre-season and I said ‘look I need to start playing football’. I had been in and out for long enough and I needed to play every week. To be fair they said ‘alright, we will listen to what you want as well’. It has started to pay off.”

Gibson only signed an 18 month deal when he joined Sunderland so has entered the final year of his contract. He will be a free agent in the summer and who knows what the future will hold. He can’t afford to think like that.

He said: “In a way it is in the back of your mind that in the summer you could not have a club, you just have to get on with it. I can’t go to the manager and say ‘look I have six months left and I need to play’. You have to show in training you are ready to play and that’s what I have been doing.”