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Martin O'Neill: Practice will make perfect at Sunderland

MARTIN O’Neill says he knows how to turn Sunderland’s fortunes around, and is determined to do it.

Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill

MARTIN O’Neill says he knows how to turn Sunderland’s fortunes around, and is determined to do it.

The manager believes hard work in training and steadfast faith in his players will produce a team Wearside can be proud of.

This afternoon Sunderland face Everton for the first time since O’Neill’s record at the club took a turn for the worse.

While his job is not under threat, a 21-game sequence featuring just one win over top-flight opposition has led to greater scrutiny of O’Neill. He was ready for it yesterday.

“It’s my ambition – task – to put a real side out and I know how to do that,” he insisted. “By hook or by crook I intend to make this team one the supporters are genuinely proud of and feel as if they have a chance of competing.

“I do have, I think, a little bit of spirit, plenty of determination and a load of enthusiasm. It would mean a lot to me to make this a fairly decent football club. I’ve got a lot of self-belief not to be knocked off course here by a couple of results.

“I’ll put everything into it and I’ve got absolutely no doubt it’ll be good.

“If this situation continues when we’re just treading water or are in serious difficulty every year, well, I’m sorry, what’s the point me doing it? What’s the point? You could get anybody else in to do it.

“I intend to try to change it, but it will not happen overnight. The greatest living manager in the game (Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson, pictured right) has had 26 years at Old Trafford and he will tell you.

“By the same token, I don’t want Sunderland supporters to be waiting a decade for it!

“Even if we’d eked out a victory against Aston Villa (last week) we could still have a really tough time.

“Essentially we’re still not able to compete at the very top level – we’re not up there with the Evertons. But that’s what we should be aspiring to.”

History suggests O’Neill’s is a hard task, but that he is up to it.

If the Black Cats avoid relegation this season, it will be their longest spell in England’s top division since the first ended in 1958. Their manager, though, has a track record of making teams punch above their weight.

With only six goals in nine Premier League games – one a Demba Ba own goal – it is clear where Sunderland’s problems lie.

While O’Neill’s statistician questions the widely-quoted statistic that Sunderland have had only 13 shots on target in the league, he accepts they need more, and has been working on creating chances in training this week.

“What you have to do on the training ground is repetition,” O’Neill explained. “You need your players to feel comfortable.

“It is about getting into positions you find yourself in on the pitch every single week, looking up and seeing what’s in front of you.

“If you are repeating that on the training ground every single day, even if your confidence is a bit low, when it comes to a match, if that situation should replicate itself, you should at least be able to feel you have the confidence to do it again.

“We are saying get shots away, don’t pass it sideways. The other night (West Bromwich Albion’s Peter) Odemwingie had a shot every single time, two hit the corner flag but one took a deflection and went in (he later scored another).

“Don’t shoot from any angles, but at least have a go.”

After the 1-0 defeat to Villa O’Neill received a vote of confidence from Gabriel Agbonlahor, praising O’Neill’s unwavering belief in him at Villa Park.

“We had a difficult spell at Villa when we didn’t have too many players to choose from, so things couldn’t be changed around a great deal, but I had great faith in those players,” he recalled.

“I’ve got great faith in these players, too.”


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