MARTIN O’Neill was at pains to point out he is going nowhere but then, maybe that’s part of the problem for the Sunderland manager at the moment.
One step forward followed by a lurch backwards of equal measure. We all recognise the improvement in the Black Cats since the nadir of their season against Middlesbrough.
However, it is yet to be borne out by collecting enough points to move them away from the danger zone – and that is a problem for O’Neill.
Forget the folly of inaccurate reports claiming he was in the process of tendering his resignation on Saturday night.
Those mischievous missives were countered by the man himself as he delivered a pre-match bravura show of wit and wisdom laced with the merest hint of venom.
What Sunderland need now is the players to show the same defiance and bravery in the face of what is likely to be a renewed challenge from Harry Redknapp’s Queens Park Rangers.
O’Neill seems up for the fight and was not backward about coming forward yesterday. Repeatedly, he said he accepted the criticism coming his way as Sunderland grasp for the consistency and competence which will take them away from the bottom three.
However, he fixed reporters with an icy stare when he – only half-jokingly – said he would not forgive or forget his critics when form finally turns.
He said: “There’s that film isn’t there, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Robert Redford’s character says: ‘I want to fight them, I want to fight them.
“I have the fight for the job. Absolutely – I would never have felt anything else.” Fight is what Sunderland need at the moment, not least as they complete a double-header of home games which simply has to yield at least one win if they are to remove themselves from the relegation candidates in time for the turn of the year.
The good news for O’Neill is Adam Johnson and Stephane Sessegnon (pictured left) – the two creative players Sunderland need to fire into life if they are to continue to score goals – appear to be rediscovering their form.
Along with Steven Fletcher, you feel the Black Cats possess a trio far too good to sustain these struggles.
However, the manager recognises there are still sizeable issues to solve before he can dream of the long-term success that he craves on Wearside.
O’Neill added: “It is pretty tough.
“I have chosen the job. Don’t get me wrong this is what I love about it and I think there are as many dark days as rosy ones. You have to get through it, though ,and I don’t see it as anything I haven’t done before.
“ I would expect somewhere along the way my time in the game will stand me in good stead rather than anyone else doing it for me.
“I can’t judge from other people. I don’t say I would know Mr Short fantastically well . We’ve had very good conversations and he is the one pointing out to me this will take time.
“He is not expecting anything at the minute and he genuinely wants stability at the club.
“In the past it’s the teams who have shown stability who have come through it.
“It is tough there is no doubt and like everybody else I would not mind a few more points on the board if we could get them.
“I knew it would be tough. I will complete a year in two weeks’ time at the club and a 38-game season whatever the case may be and I want to do well at the club.
“I think, more importantly, I expect to do well.” No wonder, then, O’Neill was so surprised to hear reports of his demise surface on Saturday.
The claims seem to have originated from an errant Tweet picked up by a respectable news organisation and then gained credibility before Sunderland officially moved to dismiss them.
O’Neill was studiously watching a re-run of Saturday’s game when the issue was broached with him. He was not amused.
He said: “I was watching our game back. It was put to me quite nicely by Press officer Louise Wanless but at that moment it was a double whammy – the referee had just given the penalty to West Brom.
“I was cursing so I must have been cursing twice after that. I have reached the stage where I just accept it. If you go out of your way to dismiss them then the fact you dismiss it makes it a story and then people start to say it and way it is worded, people say he has to dismiss it so it keeps running.
“I accept these things but it hasn’t always been like that.
“People are tweeting now and it’s running like wildfire.
“Anyone could check the story but it’s the game.”
Redknapp’s QPR are the visitors tonight, his presence assumed to make it a tougher match for O’Neill’s men.
The Sunderland boss isn’t sure the game’s short-termism is fair or particularly helpful, but he takes it for what it is. He added: “I am not sure it would happen in any other walk of life, that you would step into somewhere and your name is attached to the first team sheet and you are expected to change things, but it does.
“That’s not a problem for me though – it is the nature of the game. More so than ever before .
“You would have be given long odds on the night Chelsea won the Champions League that Roberto Di Matteo would be sacked six months later.
“The criticism is part of it. I have been criticised all my life. It won’t make a big difference.”
There was a long pause before he added: “But I will remember it.”