Martin O'Neill eyes a place in SAFC history

AS a boyhood fan, Martin O’Neill is proud of Sunderland’s history but keen to make his own.

Martin O'Neill

AS a boyhood fan, Martin O’Neill is proud of Sunderland’s history but keen to make his own.

The Wearsiders have not lifted a major trophy since their famous FA Cup victory over Leeds in 1973.

Commemorated throughout the Stadium of Light and Academy of Light, that feat now has a human embodiment after Sunderland’s man of the match that day, Jim Montgomery, was named a club ambassador last week.

O’Neill has always embraced the history of the clubs he has managed, but is keen for more up-to-date decorations.

The FA Cup is the last trophy Sunderland are in contention for this season and they entertain Arsenal in this evening’s fifth round.

O’Neill said: “For a club of this size it has been bereft of trophies for a long time.

“I passed Jim in the corridor before. It is great to see him and a reminder of the great days.

“That would be an aim for a club of this size. Why should we not think we should win something?”

With both Manchester clubs out, the winners of this weekend’s only all-Premier League tie will be a win away from Wembley, albeit at the semi-finals stage.

Some managers – such as O’Neill’s mentor Brian Clough at Leeds United – see the past as a heavy burden, others embrace it.

The Ulsterman falls into the latter category, and appreciates the value of silverware.

He added: “It is great to see their pictures up. It is very important, but it would be nice for Sunderland, the fans here, if we could use that as a benchmark but try and get something for ourselves.

“Aston Villa, when I went there, there was not a picture of the 1982 European Cup-winning team so we put them up, I wanted to give the younger players an incentive to look at the greatest night in the club’s history. To lose the (2010) League Cup final against Manchester United was really disappointing. (it would have been nice) to have at least won the trophy and been able to put it into the cabinet and say, ‘You have achieved something.’”

O’Neill has never won the world’s most famous domestic cup, but is not about to get carried away with such a formidable hurdle today.

The Gunners won at the Stadium of Light in the Premier League last week, although the momentum has shifted considerably in Sunderland’s favour since.

Then, they were on the back of a fourth round replay at Middlesbrough which was only settled in extra-time.

This time they have not played since Saturday, while Arsenal suffered a demoralising 4-0 European Cup defeat in Milan on Wednesday.

The Gunners have lost Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny to injury, while the scorer of last week’s winner, the on-loan Thierry Henry, has returned to New York Red Bulls.

Plus, the Black Cats have captain Lee Cattermole and Matt Kilgallon available again after injury. O’Neill said: “It has never been my way to look too far into the future. The game is hard enough.

“Arsenal will consider themselves as having a better chance of winning the competition than we do, but we can win the game.

“We would need to have a bit more possession than last week and have our players close to their maximum.”

With O’Neill rarely changing his Sunderland side for anything other than injury or suspension, Cattermole may have to watch from the bench, such as when he returned from a ban at Tottenham Hotspur. Gunners boss Arsène Wenger is under pressure with Wednesday’s defeat at the San Siro compounding a season in which they face a fight to finish in the top four.

O’Neill added: “I still think they would be targeting the FA Cup as something they could win.

“Not every team can win the league and, with four teams able to qualify for the Champions League, Arsenal have done it every year.

“Who is to say they won’t do it again?”

If the clubs draw tonight’s game, which kicks off at 5.15, the replay would be on Tuesday.


David Whetstone
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