HE is presiding over a club that has not won a home game in the whole of 2017, but Simon Grayson still sees no reason why Sunderland cannot feature in the promotion shake-up at the end of the season.

The Black Cats head into this afternoon’s game with QPR looking to end a horrendous run that has seen them play 16 consecutive matches at the Stadium of Light without recording a victory.

Their last win on home soil came when Patrick van Aanholt scored the only goal of the game against Watford on December 17, and their struggles in the current campaign see them lying two points adrift of safety in 23rd position in the Championship table.

They hardly look well positioned for a promotion push, but having targeted a return to the Premier League when he agreed to take over on Wearside in the summer, Grayson insists it is still far too early to be downscaling ambitions. The top-flight might look a long way off at the moment, but Sunderland’s boss is adamant things can change quickly in the Championship.

“We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves but our attitude and aspirations have not changed from what they were at the start of the season,” said Grayson. “We are a big football club in the Championship whose ambition is to get back into the Premier League, but so too is every other club’s as well.

“Just because you are a big name does not give you an automatic chance of getting back up there. You have to work hard and hope that things go for you.

“We still think we have an opportunity. We’re not saying we’re going to suddenly turn this around and go unbeaten until the end of the season. It would certainly be nice if we could, but we have got to be positive in everything we do and just see where it takes us.”

In particular, Grayson is drawing inspiration from Sunderland’s last spell in the second tier. Back in the 2006-07 season, the Black Cats lost their first four matches of the season under the temporary control of manager-chairman Niall Quinn and slumped to the bottom of the table.

Roy Keane replaced Quinn at the end of August, and things immediately improved with successive wins over West Brom, Derby and Leeds, but Sunderland were still in 19th position in mid-October.

They did not force themselves into the top half of the table until the middle of December, but were eventually crowned champions on the final day of the season.

Having assembled a new squad on August transfer-deadline day, it took Keane a couple of months to start moulding a successful team, and it was only really in the second half of the season that Sunderland clicked at both ends of the field.

Grayson was also extremely busy towards the end of the summer transfer window, eventually signing ten new players, and he remains confident things will improve once his new arrivals are settled and fully fit.

“His (Keane) team showed it’s not impossible,” he said. “It does not matter where you are in September. No one wins a title or wins promotion in September or October. It’s where you are in April, May that really matters.

“We have good players coming back and that is going to be key to us. Over the last few weeks, no disrespect to the players who have been on the bench, but you turn around and think you’re not quite sure if you can change things with the subs.

“Now I know with the 18 on Saturday, it’s different and there will be players who can’t get into the 18 too. With players coming back, all that can have a big impact on the squad because players will be looking over their shoulders.

“If you have a few players left out of the squad or on the bench and you’re in the team, you’ve really got to perform to keep in the team. Every successful team is based on a good squad and a group pushing each other.”

Even so, though, is talk of promotion not pushing things? Can Sunderland really overcome such a disappointing start to be genuine contenders in the top half of the table come May, especially when they are extremely unlikely to be big spenders in the January transfer window?

“Yes, because in this league, everybody can beat everybody,” maintained Grayson. “A couple of wins back to back gets you right up the table, and we’ve all said that if you get this place going with a few good results, it can really snowball into a real positive place, home and away. Then, this becomes a real fearful place for the opposition to play.

“We are positive in our approach about what we need to do over the next month or so. Let’s just concentrate on the QPR game, and after that Brentford, but there is no reason why we can’t climb right up the table because of the players we have in the dressing room. This club has good players, and good players can win you matches.”