MARTIN O’Neill has promised Sunderland will continue chasing lost causes – even if it results in defeats as heavy as the one at West Bromwich Albion.
The 4-0 reverse was the Black Cats’ biggest since losing 5-0 at Manchester City last April.
It might have been more respectable had O’Neill been less gung-ho in the second half.
He acknowledged as much afterwards but has no intention of changing.
“I don’t mind losing by two or three goals, particularly if we are chasing the game,” said the manager of a team who had not lost by more than one all season. “We chased it all second half, but we left gaps all over the place we were so open.
“There was always a chance of them scoring the third goal, which they did pretty quickly (through Peter Odemwingie in the 48th minute).
“That third goal knocked the stuffing out of us but we pressed forward trying to get something.
“We did not pass the ball well enough. More importantly, we did not control it well enough. That was disappointing.
“We just have to accept we did lose the game. We have a third of the season left and a lot of points still to play for.”
Sunderland trailed 2-0 at the end of a dismal first-half in which their hosts scored early and late through Odemwingie and James Morrison. O’Neill introduced strikers Fraizer Campbell and Nicklas Bendtner at half-time, moving winger James McClean to left-back.
Although specialist full-back Wayne Bridge appeared after Odemwingie scored a second and Jerome Thomas hit the crossbar,
damage limitation was never a consideration. “No, absolutely not,” O’Neill insisted. “Not at all, it never entered my head.
“Anybody who knows me from my Aston Villa days, I can remember a 7-1 at Stamford Bridge (in March 2010) when we could easily not have conceded another three goals but we were charging on at 4-1 still thinking we could get into the game. Foolish me!
“James McClean had spent a ten-minute period (at left-back) and I was hoping he and (Stéphane) Sessègnon might be able to work a twosome and get forward.
“I did not really want him defending as much as he did, so I wanted to get him forward and a defender on in that position.”
O’Neill was keen to keep a hugely disappointing result in the context of a three-month spell in which he has utterly transformed the team’s fortunes, picking up 22 points from a possible 36 and taking them to the FA Cup quarter-finals.
He added: “It is very difficult for me to criticise a group of players who have put heart and soul into the last three months. People will say a game too far? No. We have a third of the season left. It was a poor performance, the poorest we have played.
“Even the games we have lost, against Tottenham and Chelsea, we were always in with a chance of getting something.
“We were well beaten, particularly first half. I thought we were really, really flat.
“That would be hard to understand about the team because that has been really unusual for me.
“The early goal should not be the deciding element of the game but we just never recovered. This can happen to the very best of teams.”