SUNDERLAND manager Martin O'Neill last night admitted he hopes his side's second Premier League victory of the season will restore any lost confidence within his under-pressure squad.
There was more than an element of good fortune about yesterday’s 3-1 win away to in-form Fulham, who played for an hour with ten men and had another off the park with an injury for Sunderland’s second goal.
But O’Neill did not care too much about such matters, as he was only interested in the goals from Steven Fletcher, Carlos Cuellar and Stéphane Sessègnon that he hopes will get the Black Cats’ season started properly after a disappointing start.
O’Neill said: “I’m obviously delighted to have won the game. Confidence is a big thing, and when you see someone like Sessègnon score that type of goal, you hope it helps.
“He’s been searching for that confidence all season, as has the rest of the team.
“There were signs of it coming back last week at Everton. We created three great chances in the first half and should have been able to take more than the one we did.
“It was never going to be enough, but we created chances again today and shared the goals around. Fletcher’s was a very important goal for us, but having said that, after they equalised, so was Cuellar’s.
“We were never quite able to put Fulham away. Simon Mignolet has had to make two unbelievable saves for us to keep them at bay. They were never out of the match, but I was pleased to see us score some goals and pleased to win away from home.
“Our goalkeeper is having a fantastic season, and I thought Fletcher was fantastic for us as well.”
O’Neill paid special tribute to Sessègnon and Adam Johnson, two players who have started to show their best form. The Sunderland manager said: “There were a couple of months last season when Sessègnon was absolutely fantastic for us. He ended up winning the Player of the Year, but he’s been searching for that form.
“I think his family are settling now and that helps. Some of the family were living in Paris, but now he’s got settled and that’s important. That type of goal was pleasing, but he can strike the ball.
“You wouldn’t have said that from the first six or seven games of the season, but in training his ball striking is absolutely excellent. Now, he’s taking that confidence on to the pitch.
“Adam was getting 20 or 25 minutes in matches at Manchester City, and was generally coming on to try to do something or coming on when they were in front.
“They are a terrific side. Here, he’s starting the matches, but with respect to us, we’re not remotely as good as Manchester City so he’s having to strive and do more for us than he would ever have had to have done there. He’s getting there.”
The red card awarded to Fulham captain Brede Hangeland for a two-footed tackle on Lee Cattermole was hotly contested by the London outfit.
But the Sunderland manager felt referee Lee Probert was correct in his decision.
O’Neill said: “Sending offs change the dynamic of matches, as you saw on Saturday in the Tottenham Hotspur-Arsenal game. There was a sending-off here and we had to try to take advantage of that.
“When we’ve been given the directives, it is amazing the number of players who are still getting sent off for challenges like that.
“I don’t know how many times we have to be told about it, and I say that knowing we’ve been guilty ourselves with Lee Cattermole being sent off.
“Sometimes, I don’t understand players. If you don’t go in two-footed, I don’t think anyone is going to consider you a bit of a coward – quite the opposite.
“Any manager will tell you, you’ve got a better chance of winning a football match if you have all your players available to you throughout the game.”
Fulham boss Martin Jol did not think Hangeland should have been sent off.
He said: “I wouldn’t like to think that this will be used by referees as an example of when to give a red card.
“By the letter of the law, he was right, but I think he was probably the only person in the stadium who really thought it was a red card.
“It would have been nice if most of the referees had played football themselves, it would be nice if sometimes they could make decisions in the spirit of the game.
“I can’t remember having a red card at this club, he (Hangeland) is a nice boy and told me it was not intentional, he slipped. I won’t say that it is a common thing for him because I haven’t seen him do this tackle.”
“Maybe we should have scored once or twice and had a cushion to help, even with 10 men I think we did OK,” he added. “With the quality players we have got I thought we still could have scored one or two goals.
“The shape was gone (following the injuries) and they could have scored one or two more but we could have scored three, the third goal was probably the killer goal.”