CHRIS COLEMAN admits his Sunderland players are “stuck in a real rut”, but has warned them not to start throwing in the towel as they look to end the worst home run in English football.

If the Black Cats fail to beat Coleman’s former club, Fulham, at the Stadium of Light this afternoon, they will have gone an entire 12 months without recording a single home victory.

Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary since Patrick van Aanholt scored the only goal in a 1-0 win over Watford, and since then, Sunderland’s players have played a remarkable 21 games on their own ground without claiming a win.

Coleman has only presided over one of those matches, but that was enough to emphasise the scale of the problems that present themselves each time Sunderland run out on home soil. Having started reasonably strongly against Reading, Coleman’s side finished their last home game in complete disarray as Callum McManaman’s dismissal sparked a second-half collapse that eventually culminated in a 3-1 defeat.

This afternoon promises to be another fraught experience, particularly if Fulham claim an early lead, but Coleman has urged his players to embrace the challenge facing them rather than shrink away from it.

“I fully understand why people are talking about it (the record),” said the Sunderland boss. “I’ve only had it for one game, but I fully understand what Simon (Grayson) will have been going through too because you don’t want to disappoint people.

“That’s the last thing you want to do, and if you’re doing it every week, it’s hard. I’m quite sure every performance hasn’t been drastic and bad, there must have been one or two performances where the boys were unlucky, but for whatever reason, we didn’t get across the line. We have to get over the line, and we have to do it quickly.

“We just have to get back into that habit of winning a game. It can go the other way, and when you’re used to negativity and losing, you get into a real rut. You have to get out of it, but to do that, you have to go above and beyond.

“You have to put yourself out there, knowing you’re not guaranteed to get anything back. But you’ve still got to put yourself out there because otherwise things don’t change. If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.

“We’ve really got to be brave. Whether that’s ‘ugly brave’ in our set-up and winning 1-0, or being brave enough to really take advantage when we’re doing well in a game. What we can’t do is say, ‘You know what, it’s just not happening today’. That’s a recipe for disaster.”

Sunderland have shown signs of improvement under Coleman, with last weekend’s goalless draw at league leaders Wolves witnessing a spirited backs-to-the-wall defensive display after Lee Cattermole was sent off midway through the second half. Cattermole is suspended this afternoon, with his place set to be taken by the fit-again Didier Ndong.

Sunderland’s best performances this season have all come on their travels, suggesting there is now a psychological issue when it comes to playing at the Stadium of Light.

The Black Cats’ home can be an unwelcoming environment when things are not going well, with more than 20,000 empty seats adding to the dispiriting atmosphere, and some supporters have suggested closing off parts of the ground or altering the match-day experience to try to spark a change in fortune.

Coleman understands such sentiments, but insists he will not be in indulging in what he perceives to be gimmicks in an attempt to transform his side’s record. Instead, he will be trusting his players to change the prevailing mood via their performances on the pitch.

“People have talked about changing things around, and putting the fans closer together in the stadium, but we’ll know we’re doing something right when we see all the fans closer together because there are a lot more fans here,” he said. “That’s when we’ll know we’re on the right track, not shifting them from here to there just to change things around.

“The way for us to get the fans closer together is to start winning and get on a positive track. Everything else is a gimmick really. We just need to concentrate on getting more fans in the ground because they want to see a winning team.”

Coleman might only have been Sunderland’s manager for less than a month, but he already boasts personal experience of the club ending a lengthy winless run.

Back in 2006, Coleman took his Fulham side to Wearside to face a Sunderland team that had not won a single Premier League home game all season. The match was abandoned because of snow with Fulham leading 1-0, and when the rearranged game took place in May, Sunderland were faced with their final chance to claim a home win. Thanks to goals from Anthony Le Tallec and Chris Brown, that is exactly what they recorded.

“I remember the first game,” said Coleman. “We were winning 1-0 but the referee cancelled it because of the snow. We came back up a few weeks later, and ended up losing that game 2-1.

“It was Sunderland’s first win, but of course I was managing Fulham at the time, so I didn’t really pay too much attention to what was going on with Sunderland and the run they were going through. Fulham are an ex-club of mine, but it’s all about Sunderland now. It’s all about us.”