MARTIN O’Neill yesterday just about managed to stop himself from spilling the beans on why he really quit Aston Villa two years ago.
But the Sunderland manager insisted he would go into detail about what was a bitter exit from Villa Park once today’s Premier League match against his former employers is done and dusted.
O’Neill has never spoken at length about why he walked out of Aston Villa in August 2010, only five days before the season started, following four successful years spent in the Midlands.
However, it was obvious that he and owner Randy Lerner had grown apart regarding transfer budgets by the end of his time.
The Northern Irishman had been out of football since that day until Sunderland came calling in December, and he knew there would be questions put to him about his Villa past and what reception he expects at 3pm today when he takes his place in the away dugout.
However, O’Neill resisted the temptation to stick the knife into his old club – for the moment at least.
The Black Cats boss said: “Villa are one of the finest clubs in England, but things were a little sour in my final season; the irony being that it was our best season as we finished in the top six and six points off a Champions League place.
“But sometimes these things happen and I am not going into any explanations today. The eve of match is not the right time to clear up issues, which might be useful, but it is not going to be today.
“I do not go back there with trepidation. I had the privilege of managing one of the great clubs in English football, with a great tradition and history.
“Villa is one of only four English clubs that have won the European Cup. In terms of my reception, whatever comes, comes. I am not in a position to change people’s minds, although there may be a clearing up at some stage for the reasons for my departure.” O’Neill was more transparent about what he required from his current team at Villa Park, a massive improvement from last Saturday’s forgettable 0-0 draw with Wolves.
Sunderland have now gone on the worst run since O’Neill took over, three draws and a loss from their last four games, and have failed to score for three matches.
O’Neill said: “We played pretty poorly against Wolves, didn’t create enough and didn’t deserve to win it.
“I always thought Wolves would be awkward, but the game passed us by and there were too many prolonged periods of inactivity, and it just petered out to nothingness.
“We are better than that and performance more akin to Manchester City (3-3) would be more than sufficient. Overall we need to perform better than we did against Wolves and are more than capable of doing that.
“The cynic in me says we can’t play any worse.”
Sunderland have been fined £30,000 by the FA as punishment for some players’ reaction to referee Phil Dowd’s decision to award Manchester City a controversial penalty in that draw on March 31.
He adjudged Craig Gardner had fouled City striker Edin Dzeko in the area and, in the immediate aftermath, several Sunderland players crowded round Dowd to voice their disapproval.
Sunderland denied the charge, but to no avail and they were also warned about their future conduct.