MARTIN O’Neill has revealed the depth of his ambition for Sunderland by saying it is a top-six club in waiting.
O’Neill has been buoyed by victories over Southampton and Manchester City this Christmas but is adamant the club – notwithstanding their upturn in form of late – still has a “long way” to go to compete at the top of the Premier League club.
Nonetheless, the Black Cats boss believes that is their natural constituency, with O’Neill identifying the top six as a realistic target for the first time since taking over at the Stadium of Light.
O’Neill bases his assertion not on the quality of the squad at his disposal but rather on the club’s infrastructure, its regular crowds and the ambition of the board.
His ambitious target will further please Sunderland supporters heartened their faith in O’Neill has been repaid with some short-term joy over the festive period.
He said: “This is a top-six club but we don’t have a top-six team at the moment.
“We should be trying to aim for that. You have teams like Man City and Chelsea who have come up in recent years and I suppose you could say you can buy success, that has been proved.
“I’m not so sure that’s the way this football club wants to go.
“It’s a major club and we just want to go with it.”
O’Neill remains realistic about the size of the task in front of him at Sunderland.
He has spoken of targeting new signings at the Stadium of Light and believes the club need to strengthen both in defence and in attack, with the club aiming to make moves in January. Even then,
he accepts they are at the beginning of a journey rather than anywhere near its conclusion. O’Neil added: You’d have to say at this minute we have a bit of work to do to be a top-six club.
Sunderland host Tottenham today with plenty of attention trained on Gareth Bale, the Tottenham winger who will pose the North London club’s biggest threat as they look to avoid becoming the third club in four games to suffer defeat at the hands of the Black Cats.
O’Neill, though, feels his own wingers are beginning to emerge as a genuine threat again – with Adam Johnson’s goal on Boxing Day supplementing a fine performance by James McClean, who seems to be finding his feet again after a tough start to the campaign.
The Ireland midfielder has struggled at times this year but seemed to cause plenty of problems for Manchester City – and O’Neill warmed to the theme this might finally be the end of his second season syndrome.
He said: “McClean was brilliant. He was prepared to get at the full-back, prepared to work back, dropped in to midfield and I felt his overall performance was immense.
“You would hope the pair (Johnson and McClean) would be ready to go now. Two months ago we talked about James and second-season syndrome.
“It was difficult for him early on because defenders closed him down very quickly in matches, but he is learning to overcome that. Overall I think he is coming through.
“They both can be a threat. If we can get the ball to Adam quicker then he can cause real problems.”