DESPITE their 2-0 win over Swansea City at the Stadium of Light, Black Cats boss Martin O’Neill insisted his Sunderland side could do much better after a less than convincing display.
Two excellent strikes from Stephane Sessegnon and Craig Gardner sealed the victory, but you could be forgiven for thinking the game was played in Wales, such was the amount of possession that Swansea enjoyed.
More shots on goal and 64% of possession tells its own story of how Swansea dominated this game, but they could not penetrate Sunderland’s back four nor could they legislate for the two pieces of individual genius that led to both goals.
While delighted with the victory, O’Neill admitted his men could have made it easier on themselves by not allowing their visitors to have so much of the ball.
He said: “I think there would have been games, certainly in my early stages at Villa, where we would have played Manchester United where we wouldn’t have had a great deal of possession.
“But we felt that today things caught up with us a little bit. We can do much better in terms of when we have possession of the ball.
“It can be a bit disconcerting when we’ve done so well to get it and then we’ve given it away, but we can improve and we know that. The players are well aware of that. But to win today was really big.
“In terms of playing we had more possession against Chelsea than we did against Swansea and that was at Stamford Bridge, so that’s kind of surprising.
“It’s very encouraging. I hope I certainly don’t sound like we’ve lost 5-0. We haven’t. We’ve won the game and I’m delighted. But I sensed that it was going to be that kind of afternoon. We can improve and we know we can improve, but it was really excellent to win again.”
However, the positive for O’Neill was the resolute manner in which his defence kept their shape and did not allow Swansea free passage to Simon Mignolet’s goal.
He added: “We didn’t do too badly. We gave them an opportunity before we scored and I think the free-kick caused us a bit of a problem, but other than that I think we dealt with it very well indeed.
“(Phil) Bardsley in particular – he was shepherding things out, considering he had a few problems with Sinclair.
“And I thought we got to grips in the middle as well. It was really pleasing to win. With (John) O’Shea, I’m pleased he’s getting a bit of confidence about himself.
“Sometimes when you move from a club like Manchester United, where you’ve won a lot of things and been part of a successful team, you feel as if you have to do something unbelievably special, but he just needs to play the game he’s been playing for the last eight or nine years and that would be sufficient.”
O’Neill, meanwhile, praised goal hero Craig Gardner who is believed to be still unsettled at Sunderland following his move to Wearside last summer.
He continued: “Craig’s got a good chance of starting next week against Middlesbrough. He’s unlucky not to be in the side. I thought he did very well against Peterborough, he came on against Chelsea and missed the goal which I could have killed him for.
“But overall, just to clarify it’s not like he’s coming in every day and saying he’s wanting to leave – it’s just every other day!
“He can consider himself unfortunate not to be in the team, but if you look at it, Keiren (Westwood) went out of the team with illness, he’s come back from illness and Mignolet has done very well.
“Sometimes players can be in the team on merit and go out of the team because things aren’t going for them, but other times players are genuinely unlucky and Craig is one of them.”