WEEKEND reports that former Aston Villa boss Martin O'Neill is being lined up to replace Steve Bruce at Sunderland are well wide of the mark, The Journal understands.
Sources within the club have dismissed speculation that O’Neill – who has been out of work since leaving Villa 14 months ago – has already been approached over succeeding Bruce at the helm.
The Black Cats have picked up just six points from their first seven Premier League games, and that disappointing start – exacerbated by the fact that the club’s three defeats so far include a home reverse against fierce rivals Newcastle United – has put Bruce under pressure.
But Sunderland have no intention of jettisoning Bruce, who last season led the club to a top-ten finish for only the third time since 1955.
The club’s hierarchy believes stability is the key to success, and is keen to steer clear of knee-jerk reactions.
But the club is also understandably reluctant to back their manager in public for fear of that being interpreted as a so-called ‘dreaded vote of confidence’ that so often precedes a sacking.
Instead, it is deeds rather than actions that prove Sunderland’s commitment to their manager.
And the fact that Bruce is currently in South Korea along with newly-appointed international development chief – and, until last week, chairman – Niall Quinn on a mission to attract sponsorship and forge commercial ties, underlines the strength of the his position within the club.
Owner, and now Black Cats chairman, Ellis Short also backed
Bruce with a significant transfer kitty over the summer, which financed the arrivals of 11 new players.
The link with O’Neill is a recurring theme on Wearside, cropping up whenever the Sunderland job falls vacant or a manager finds himself under pressure.
Rumours generally centre on the fact that, despite being born and raised in Northern Ireland, the former Nottingham Forest midfielder grew up a Sunderland fan.
And the ex-Celtic boss was a genuine contender for the Sunderland job when the Drumaville consortium bought the club in 2006, before Quinn briefly took charge and later handed over the reins to Roy Keane.
Meanwhile, Black Cats defender John O’Shea has called on Sunderland to find some consistency as the Wearsiders look to put their misfiring start behind them. Sunderland’s form has been up and down in the first two months of the season, and the summer buy from Manchester United says his new club needs to produce the same kind of consistency that has become the hallmark of his previous employers.
“The most successful teams are also the most consistent,” said O’Shea. “It hasn’t happened for us yet, but that’s what I’m looking to happen here soon because that’s what’s going to see us climb into the top half of the table and stay there.
“When we beat Stoke City 4-0 recently I was pleased but I was already looking towards the Norwich game a few days later.
“It’s safe to say that I was more disappointed at losing to Norwich than I was pleased to have beaten Stoke – and one of the main reasons for that is because you need to string together results to get momentum. If we could have got back-to-back wins from those two games, we’d be in the top half of the league now.
“And that’s what the best teams like Manchester United do, they make sure they win a game and if they can’t do that, they do absolutely everything they can to make sure they don’t lose.
“Back-to-back wins are what really propel you up the table, but if you can’t get a win, at least try to make sure you don’t lose because unbeaten runs build confidence and keep you ticking over.”
O’Shea came off the bench to help the Republic of Ireland to a 2-0 Euro 2012 qualifying win over Andorra on Friday night.
And he could be in line to start tomorrow’s crucial qualifier against Armenia in Dublin, with the Irish needing to avoid defeat to finish second in the group and clinch a play-off place.