MARTIN O’Neill admitted even he could not have dreamt up the circumstances surrounding his winning start to life as Sunderland manager.
With his side trailing Blackburn with seven minutes to go, the Ulsterman watched on as David Vaughan smashed home an equaliser before Sebastian Larsson’s injury-time winner.
Speaking after the 2-1 triumph, O’Neil said: “Even in my wildest dreams I could not have envisaged it happening like that.”
Recovering from a sluggish start which saw Blackburn nick a 17th-minute lead through Simon Vukcevic, he added: “The crowd afforded me a wonderful reception before we settled into the game, but I felt with 10 minutes to go that it was déjà vu from last week at Wolves.
“We had loads of possession and kept trying to play, and overall I felt we did terrifically despite trying to thread it through the eye of a needle at times. You were thinking at some stage that you must get a break, and we deserved that breakthrough.”
Rewarding a second-highest Stadium of Light attendance for their patience, O’Neil said: “The players were very determined today, and it is hard when you are playing here and wanting to please people. At some point a couple of things will go wrong and you will get that feeling of frustration and anger, but I thought the crowd were fantastic. They kept with us, but of course you are going to get moments. I thought the players got a wee self-belief, and they thought that if we do keep playing them something will break for us.”
He added: “There were 10 minutes before half-time when we started putting balls into the penalty area, and it was a bit like heading practice for Blackburn. We tried to adjust in the second half and get some better angles, and eventually someone has to get in to score a goal.
“I think these players are genuine, and they want to play. They were playing under a bit of pressure to please people and get the result, and the way they kept going was terrific.
“Blackburn have had the one attack and scored the goal, we were back to square one and they could have been forgiven for seeing things which might have been a microcosm of the season.”
Crediting 22-year-old James McClean with raising the tempo in a sensational cameo, the manager said of his Irish debutant: “Just at the moment when we all needed a lift, on he came. His first move was probably the first time that the crowd have seen him, but he is so positive. He played brilliantly in the reserves against Man United during the week, and he wants to get past players. He is young, immature, and that is great. The crowd took to him, but I could go through the entire team.”
With McClean supplying the missiles it was Vaughan and Larsson delivering the goals. O’Neill said: “It was a great goal by David – a really great goal – and it just lifted everybody. You could sense the confidence coming back into the team, and to get the winner was just a dream. When we got the free-kick I felt it could be the winning goal, but I wasn’t wildly worried about the weight on my shoulders or anything like that. On reflection maybe, but I did not feel that at the time.” Delighted to have secured the three points from a game which looked like passing his team by, the manager said: “The whole experience was really surreal.
“Just to get three points on the board is immense, and I would have given a lot for that. Forget about myself – for the players after losing here last time to Wigan then at Wolves last weekend, it is important. It is only a win, but in terms of restoration of pride it is great.
“If the fans feel half as good as I do then they will be pretty pleased, and that is the main thing.”
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