DEFIANT Martin O’Neill last night insisted the “doom and gloom” surrounding Sunderland’s start to the season was not justified.
Ahead of Aston Villa’s visit tomorrow in what must be viewed as a pivotal match for the Sunderland manager, he came out fighting by railing against the “doom and gloom” and preaching a message of patience to Black Cats fans still reeling from their League Cup exit.
O’Neill feels the fans were justified in booing the side off the pitch following their derby defeat to Middlesbrough, but he remains confident that Sunderland will come good over the course of the season and believes there is enough resilience and spirit in the group to get the season back on track.
Most of all, though, he has urged the Black Cats’ detractors to judge them on where they are at the end of the campaign rather than their situation at the start of November.
“On Tuesday night we played poorly,” he admitted.
“We started off very, very brightly in the game – we looked as if we could rip them apart but that didn’t last long, maybe not even ten minutes, and we allowed Middlesbrough to get a foothold. We eventually got knocked out and got booed off the pitch and I think the crowd had a justification for that.
“Now you’re talking about expectation and perceptions of it. From our viewpoint, I must admit there are times when you feel as if you haven’t registered a point on the board. We’ve lost one game this season, we’ve lost against the champions of England who were too good for us and they’ve beaten us convincingly in the match. We haven’t been beaten in another (Premier League) game.
“We’ve drawn a lot of matches and it’s real doom and gloom but sorry, I’m not going with that. It’s not a matter of me just being stubborn for the sake of it, it’s there.
“We’re capable of winning some matches. It’s a season myself and the team should be judged on, not a group of games. You can take a statistic from whatever group of games and put whatever spin you want on it.
“We’re sitting here - by the time we have finished our game against Fulham we’ve have played 11 matches, seven away from home. Partly that’s our own fault for not getting the Reading game on but eventually these things will level out and it’s where you are when they level out that matters.
“We have to go on and try and win a game. We have some very fine players who are not playing particularly well at the moment, but that will change over time. If it means that one will have to sit out a game for a time then so be it, but in time we will get back on track.
“It’s where we are at the end of the season (that counts).”
Sunderland look set to recall Danny Rose, Seb Larsson and Craig Gardner for tomorrow’s match against Villa – although Carlos Cuellar (pictured above) is facing a race against time to face his former club after missing training again yesterday.
O’Neill will consider more changes to try and spark an attacking reaction from his team after admitting that he is frustrated by their lack of cutting edge.
He said: “The frustration at the moment is the team should be getting people excited. We have players at this minute who are not playing to their potential and it is up to me to rectify that. It’s my job. We have to stick at it.
“This season I wanted us to create more chances and the consequences of that would be to become a better attacking unit and a side that you’d want to watch.
“We get into certain positions in games and I think that we pass it but we’re playing in front of them.
“We’re playing in front of teams rather than being more penetrative. At this minute it’s a real frustration. It’s a long, long season and you’re going to have these periods where you think nothing is going right. It’s about how you come through that, that will define us.”