MARTIN O’Neill does not believe Sunderland’s failure to win any of their last 12 Premier League matches has become a psychological problem – but admits it will become one if they do not end it soon.
The Black Cats are unbeaten in five matches this season, but their only win came over League Two Morecambe in the League Cup.
Saturday’s dramatic 1-1 draw with West Ham United was Sunderland’s fourth in as many league matches this term.
It extended a winless run in the competition stretching back to March 24.
O’Neill (pictured left) is relatively unconcerned about the effect on his team. “Certainly not for me,” he replied, when asked if it was becoming a mental barrier.
“I don’t know how the players are feeling.
“Certainly it’s not something Steven Fletcher is concerned about – because he wasn’t here for the first nine matches and may not even know about it, though I bet you’re going to tell him!
“Of course as time goes on if we don’t gain victories it becomes a problem. We just have to start winning if we can. We got close on Saturday and we’ll try again this week.”
Sunderland’s next chance
comes at home to Wigan Athletic on Saturday, though first they travel to MK Dons in the League Cup.
The manner in which the Wearsiders surrendered three points at the weekend could be more damaging to morale.
They were totally outplayed by West Ham, yet led for 83 minutes.
Although James Collins hit the bar and Kevin Nolan forced a brilliant save from Simon Mignolet, the Black Cats had good chances on the break, particularly when an unmarked David Vaughan failed to connect with a dangerous James McClean cross.
Former Newcastle United skipper Nolan equalised in the third added minute.
O’Neill added: “We’ve almost seen the game through and to concede as we did that was just disappointing.
“We’ll try and rectify that if we can.
“I’m not going to say it’s the last time we’ll concede a goal in the last five minutes this season – I’m sure it won’t be.
“However, I’m hoping we might win a game in the last five minutes to make up for it.
“That’s four games we’ve played now and in each of the games in the last 20 minutes we’ve been under pressure.
“We have to try and find a way of keeping the ball a little bit better than we are.
“On Saturday we knew we were going to be put under that sort of pressure, but the disappointing thing for me was that for most of it we dealt with it manfully and pretty well.
“I thought on the break – and I accept they were on the break – we had really decent chances to put the game beyond them, but were unable to take them.
“If we’d held on I’d be jumping through hoops telling you how brilliant we are.”
Fletcher opened the scoring after ten minutes with his fourth goal in three Premier League games since completing his protracted £12m move from Wolves.
He is the only Sunderland player to score in the competition this season.
Adam Johnson, Sebastian Larsson and Fraizer Campbell are unlikely to travel to Milton Keynes for tomorrow’s League Cup tie.
Johnson is struggling with the thigh injury which ruled him out of England’s recent World Cup qualifiers.
Although O’Neill was refusing to definitively rule him out of tomorrow’s trip, he seems highly unlikely to be risked.
Larsson came off with a “very tight” hamstring at Upton Park, while Sunderland are waiting on the result of x-rays on Campbell’s foot after an apparent stamp, although O’Neill was at pains to stress there were no accusations of intent.
James McFadden is set to spend another week on trial before Sunderland decide whether or not to sign the Scotland forward.