Ball sees steady improvement
Kevin Ball has urged Sunderland to build on the foundations they have lain during his spell in charge, irrespective of whether or not he remains at the helm.
The 48-year-old hopes to discover this week if he is to stay in interim charge at the Stadium of Light, be handed the job on a permanent basis or return to his role as the club's senior professional development coach.
But whoever sends out the team at Swansea on October 19, he insists they must perform to the standards they set on Saturday as they very nearly pulled off a shock against reigning Barclays Premier League champions Manchester United.
Ball said: "What I have said to them in there is that has got to be the minimum in future they do for themselves. Irrespective of who the manager is, that's the minimum they have got to do.
"They have got to keep building on that and building on that and building on that, adding bits of the game that we would like to see them improve on and hopefully results will come then."
Ball was asked to take over the reins temporarily following Paolo Di Canio's departure a fortnight ago, and a Capital One Cup victory over Peterborough has been followed by creditable performances in defeat against Liverpool and United.
However, the statistics make for painful reading and they have now collected just one point from a possible 21 this season and are already six adrift of safety.
Owner Ellis Short saw the latest instalment of Ball's reign in person and whether he has seen enough to consider appointing him - a decision which would go down well in the dressing room - remains to be seen.
But what is clear is that the former Black Cats midfielder has received a response from his players.
Asked if he had seen enough to convince him that Sunderland can get themselves out of trouble, Ball said: "What I have seen is a lot of players who are fully committed to the cause, and so they should be.
"The players should give themselves a lot of credit, but like I keep saying to them - I keep emphasising this - what is important now is they keep doing it, irrespective of what happens, they keep doing it because it's vitally important to this club."
The home side went into the game buoyed by a much-improved display against Liverpool, but knowing a 3-1 defeat had done nothing to improve their situation, and they could hardly have got off to a better start.
United defenders Phil Jones and Nemanja Vidic contrived between them to allow Craig Gardner to fire his side into a fifth-minute lead, and it was one they managed to protect with some comfort until the break.
Indeed, the Black Cats could have gone in with an even bigger advantage had it not been for a superb save from David De Gea to keep out an Emanuele Giaccherini header and a glaring miss from the Italy international.
Having turned in a muted display before the break, the visitors returned in determined mood and, as their hosts tired, they assumed control.
However, it took 18-year-old winger Adnan Januzaj to get them out of jail with a classy double.
He levelled after 55 minutes when, after playing the ball out to Patrice Evra, he made ground to convert the full-back's cross when it arrived.
But his winner was even more noteworthy as he unleashed a picture-book left-foot volley across goalkeeper Keiren Westwood and into the bottom corner.
The disappointment in the home dressing room on the final whistle was a measure of the strides Sunderland have taken during a traumatic fortnight, but there is also an acceptance that results need to improve markedly and very quickly if they are to avoid another unseemly scrap for top-flight survival.
For his part, Ball hopes to discover over the next couple of days whether he will have a further role to play in that process.
Asked about his immediate future, he said: "No idea at the moment. I don't know whether they are going to give me a ring, speak to me or anything like that.
"But I am sure in the next couple of days, they will do something."