THE final result might have left them even further adrift of safety, but Joel Asoro claims Sunderland’s performance in Saturday’s Wear-Tees derby proves they have the stomach for a relegation fight.

The Black Cats slipped four points from the safety zone as they drew 3-3 with Middlesbrough, and with both Hull City and Barnsley boasting a game in hand over Chris Coleman’s side, their position at the bottom of the table looks bleak.

Sunderland have now gone six games without claiming a victory, but while they were unable to see off their North-East rivals at the weekend, there was at least a semblance of fighting spirit in the recovery that culminated in Callum McManaman claiming an equaliser deep into stoppage time.

Despite being behind on two separate occasions, and playing with ten men for 13 minutes longer than Middlesbrough did following the first-half dismissal of Jake Clarke-Salter, Sunderland’s players refused to go down without a fight, and if they display similar battling qualities at Millwall this weekend, Asoro is confident they can kick-start a successful survival push.

“We’ve been saying that although we lost against Bolton (last Tuesday), you could see the energy from the players and you could see how much we want it and how much we want to win,” said the striker, who scored Sunderland’s opening goal against Boro.

“Win, lose or draw, you have to do that, and we need to take it to the next game now. Don’t settle on that point, take it into the next game.

“We need to do the right things and we need to be better defensively, but we also need to keep scoring as well otherwise it makes it harder for the defenders.

“As soon as we scored the first goal against Middlesbrough, you could feel it. We maybe surprised the fans, but that’s what we have to do.

“Scoring early makes a big difference, and we kept the energy up even when we went behind. As soon as I saw six minutes (of stoppage time), I thought, ‘We can do this’ (equalise). If we bring the same energy to the Millwall game, we’ll be okay.”

There have been precious few positives from a Sunderland perspective this season, but Asoro’s emergence from the development-team ranks has provided a rare shaft of light.

The 18-year-old Swede had only made four senior appearances prior to this season, but Saturday’s Championship start was his seventh of the campaign and he has weighed in with two goals.

Coleman appears to prefer him to his fellow youngster, Josh Maja, and he is set to start alongside Middlesbrough loanee Ashley Fletcher when Sunderland travel to the Den this weekend.

By his manager’s own admission, he might lack some of the physicality that is often associated with playing up front in the Championship, but he is learning with every game and Saturday’s performance was arguably his best in a Sunderland shirt.

“When I came in, people maybe looked at me and thought, ‘He’s too little, too weak, too young’,” said Asoro. “But you just can’t give up, and I’ve kept working and believing.

“It has taken me a year (to become established in the first team), and you can get angry when you’re not getting the minutes, but you’ve just got to keep going.

“There’s a bit of competition up front, but you have to be ready and even if you’re coming from the bench, you have to try to bring some energy.”

Asoro’s performances have not gone unnoticed, and Premier League side Watford are understood to be monitoring him closely, with their scouts having attended a number of Sunderland games.

Paris St Germain have also sent a scouting delegation to watch Asoro in action, but the teenager insists he is not looking beyond the end of the current campaign and Sunderland’s ongoing survival fight.

He intends to keep his place in the first team for the remainder of the season, with Coleman taking a close interest in his rapid development.

“I was expecting at the start of the season to get a few minutes,” he said. “But the way things have gone, I’ve been lucky. The manager has been talking with us loads, sometimes happy, sometimes a bit angry. He just wants to bring the best out of you, and that’s what you need.”