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The Black Cats boss acknowledges that results have been poor but, even with Steven Fletcher and Lee Cattermole out for the rest of the season, urges a good outlook

Martin O'Neill accepts that Sunderland are in a "battle" for Premier League survival but insists that they must remain positive.

The Black Cats are on a poor run of form and, with top goalscorer Steven Fletcher and midfielder Lee Cattermole both sidelined for the remainder of the season, the Northern Irishman's job becomes even tougher.

His side face Manchester United, Chelsea, Everton and Newcastle in their next four games and O'Neill is adamant that Sunderland now need him more than ever.

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"Listen, if we lose the games, I cannot be smiling within half an hour of the game. By the time I have analysed it, done the press conference, had a small talk with the opposition manager, for an hour or two you have thought about the game, but then you have to get yourself up. You have to," he told a fans' forum.

"I am what I am. If you are expecting me to step in to a press conference after performing in the manner we did against Norwich [a 1-1 draw on March 17] and be jocular then you would tell me I needed my head examined.

"As a player I always concerned myself with losing matches, same as a manager, but it cannot last forever. I don't know who was saying I was downbeat. That's their opinion."

Sunderland are now without a win in seven league games, stretching back to their January victory over Wigan, and are precariously positioned in 15th, only four points ahead of the 18th-placed Latics having played one game more.

"It's tough at this stage. That's the nature of the game," O'Neill continued. "As a manager nowadays you can be judged on any given 10 minutes but remaining upbeat is actually in my nature. Being down is not.

"I'm looking forward. What we have to do now for these big matches is to play with the same determination, gusto, that the team should be capable of playing with.

"We have a battle on but we have some great games that we can look forward to rather than shy away from. I actually think the fans have come in big numbers here to support. We have not given them a great deal to support all season. They are entitled to be frustrated."

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