MARTIN O’Neill last night admitted that, not for the first time this season, it was his strikers who let him down as Sunderland were defeated at Fulham.
Nicklas Bendtner and Fraizer Campbell (twice) missed good chances late in the game to save a point at Craven Cottage, on a day when full-back Phil Bardsley showed the frontmen how it should be done with a superb goal of his own.
That’s seven games without a win for the Black Cats and a big reason for this disappointing run is the lack of goals in the Sunderland team.
Asked if he had learned anything knew after this performance, O’Neill said: “No. I think we missed some gilt-edged chances and that eventually proved the difference in the game.
“But it is something we are aware of. They were relatively simple chances for us and, while scoring a goal is relatively difficult, as I have said before it might not be that difficult.” Fulham were the better side, but Sunderland made life difficult for themselves and not just up front.
Within 60 seconds of Bardsley cancelling out Clint Dempsey’s early opener, Fulham ran up the park with Moussa Dembele scoring what proved to be the winner before half-time. O’Neill said: “It was an encouraging performance by us. In possession, I thought we passed the ball pretty well and to concede just after we had scored a great equaliser was particularly galling.
“We did go to sleep after the equaliser. I think we were distracted by the fact Stephane Sessegnon had to change his footwear at that time. So within 10 seconds of kick-off they have made it 2-1, which immediately nullifies our goal and sets us on the back foot.
“We should have done better, we should have dealt with it better.”
This is not the way O’Neill wanted the season to fizzle out. Sunderland were talking about a top eight finish a few weeks ago and will now do well to finish in the top half, especially with Manchester United the visitors for next Sunday’s final fixture of the season. The Irishman, when asked about the run, said: “We should have won some of those matches.
“We went to Manchester City and drew 3-3, we should have won at Villa Park when the linesman chopped off a goal, but you are going to get that over a season.
“We have won big games this season and we may have had less possession in those games. We had a lot of possession for being away from home.
“You don’t want to lose games, but there were encouraging signs and Dempsey’s goal was terrific. He has played really well and had a great season. It was a very good goal indeed.”
One positive O’Neill took was the hour long performance of Ji Dong-Won, who previously had seen little game time.He said: “It was Ji’s first start under me. I knew he would get tired in the last half hour, however, I thought there were some very encouraging signs.”
O’Neill was keen to know who the teams currently mired in the relegation battle had fared yesterday before he began his Press conference and was clearly relieved that is something his side did not have to concern themselves about.
He said: “I would not have liked to be coming here today under the kind or pressure the teams below us are under. So we will go into next season refreshed. We have one more game to go now. We now have Manchester United next week and it’s a great fixture to end it with. I’m really looking forward to it.”