SUNDERLAND keeper Craig Gordon is convinced the club are finally getting to grips with the defensive problems that dragged them into consecutive relegation battles.
Since their return to the Premier League two years ago the Black Cats have struggled to build the type of solid defensive unit that is the bedrock of established top flight sides.
In the second half against Liverpool last Saturday, Anton Ferdinands switch to left-back and Lorik Canas star turn in central defence suggests that Sunderland are still a long way from enjoying a settled rearguard.
But Gordon insists that, while injuries have forced Steve Bruce to continue chopping and changing his defensive resources, the quality in the side has made them a tougher prospect for opposition attackers.
Theres a talented group of defenders here, said Gordon, who has reclaimed the number one spot since returning from ankle injury.
We have to make sure we keep more clean sheets. We managed to do that against one of the top four, which I think is possibly the first time since weve come up.
Since joining the Black Cats in a £9m deal from Hearts, Gordon has seen a constantly changing cast of characters populate the Sunderland back four. An example of their lack of stability is that since his arrival, eight different players have started at right back in league encounters.
Gordon is looking forward to Bruce emulating the Premier Leagues most successful sides by keeping selection changes to a minimum.
He said: I dont think theres ever been a stage when Ive been here where weve had a very settled back four perhaps the second half of the first season we came up with Jonny Evans and Nyron Nosworthy in the centre, Phil Bardsley
and Danny Collins.
Since then theres been injuries and players coming in and leaving. We still probably havent had the same four play in every game. The more you play with each other the better understanding you have.
You want to be in there, settled, and be the regular starter and thats the same for any player, particularly defenders. You get that understanding.
They know when to step up to play offside, they know where each other is and thats important.
After securing four points from two of the divisions so-called big four sides Gordon hopes this weekends trip to Birmingham sees Sunderland end their habit of struggling against the lowerranked teams.
We have to go there and look to take something from the game. Were unbeaten in four now, so thats something to take into the game. Other than the game at Man United, our last away game was at Burnley and that was disappointing.