Kevin Kilbane admits he is surprised that his ex-Preston team-mate and manager David Moyes remains in charge of Sunderland, but also thinks his old boss is the man to bring them back up from the Championship.
The 3-0 home defeat to Manchester United on Sunday means the Wearsiders remain routed to the bottom of the table, and 10 points from safety with just seven games remaining.
Kilbane, who was managed by Moyes at both North End and Everton, and also played for Sunderland, said: “Over the past few seasons, if the Black Cats have been struggling in March then their trigger-happy owner Ellis Short has made the change of boss, and it has had a positive impact on the team.
“That has not happened this time, even though Sunderland are in a terrible position.
“I don’t see them avoiding relegation, and I have thought that for a number of weeks now.”
Kilbane believes Moyes’ negative attitude may be a factor in Sunderland’s dismal season, which has seen them spend 219 out of a possible 240 days in the relegation zone this campaign.
“The interview he gave after his side’s defeat by Middlesbrough in August where he told fans to, “Expect a relegation battle” suggested to me that there was something else on the agenda, and maybe he was not getting the transfer funds he had been promised,” added the former winger.
“You could argue that Moyes was just being realistic, but he has not really done much to win the fans over with anything he has said.
“That is the biggest difference between his situation and Rafael Benitez’s at Newcastle when they went down last year.
“There was a real positivity about Benitez when he was appointed in March 2016 and, at the end of the season, the fans were right behind him, saying the club had to persuade him to stay. They did, and they are reaping the rewards now.
“I don’t think there is anything like the same feeling towards Moyes on Wearside as there was towards Benitez on Tyneside.
“If Moyes is going to turn things around, then he needs to change the mood around the club, especially in the stands. He has just not been upbeat enough.”