MARTIN O’Neill has installed a ‘no excuses’ culture at Sunderland within three months of taking over, says transformed midfield ace Jack Colback.
The incredible revival under the Ulsterman gathered pace on Wednesday with a derby defeat of spirited Middlesbrough, the Wearsiders’ ninth win in 13 games since O’Neill took over.
The secret has been to retain much the same tactics and personnel but change the mentality of a squad limping along in the final days of Steve Bruce’s reign.
That means telling the players with the firepower, talent and ability the Black Cats can call on they should be progressing to the latter stages of the FA Cup – and that even having a tilt at the top eight is within their grasp.
Colback is a case in point. Although handed his Premier League debut by Bruce, there has been a marked improvement in his play under O’Neill, culminating in the brilliant half-volley that lit up Wednesday’s Tees-Wear derby clash. It is all a case of self-belief, according
to the homegrown midfield ace. He said: “The message which has come to us is we should be doing well.
“I agree, you only have to look at the players which have come in.
“There are really experienced players who have come in.
“They have played at a very high level but they have come here for a reason.
“The boss has just brought us a great self-belief.
He has installed a lot of confidence in the players and he just shows belief in us.
“It rubs off on the pitch. Maybe we have had that little bit of luck – like in the Blackburn game, for example – two great strikes won us that game but that kick-started our season.
“We are just going into games expecting to win. Results breed confidence and we are going into every match believing we can win and we should win.
“Unbeatable probably is not the right word for how we feel, but we are going into every game extremely confident. It is great times to be at the club.”
Sunderland welcome Arsenal to the Stadium of Light on Saturday for the first of two meetings on consecutive weekends and will relish the prospect of taking another swing at one of the Premier League’s leading lights on their own patch.
The Black Cats have won all bar one of O’Neill’s home league games so far and will not fear the Gunners, who have been inconsistent since the turn of the year.
Colback added: “It is a fantastic opportunity.
“Arsenal will come up here twice and I am sure they will believe they can win but we will too.
“We know what to expect from them. They like to pass it well, but so do we too. It will be an open and enjoyable game – hopefully it will be a win for us.” Colback seems to be enjoying a sustained run in the centre of midfield, a position he prefers to the emergency left-back role he was handed when O’Neill was confronted with an injury crisis in January.
The youngster from Killingworth has been monitored by England under-21 boss Stuart Pearce and more positive performances may yet bring age-group Three Lions recognition for the Sunderland Academy graduate.
He said: “My preferred role is central midfield, so it is natural for me to come into that role and hopefully do well.
“I was happy to come in at left-back as well, but playing centre midfield is fine for me.”