CALL Sunderland a soft touch within earshot of Martin O’Neill and you might get an angry email. Stuart Rayner finds out why.
MARTIN O’Neill has been annoyed this week. So annoyed he almost wrote an angry email. He claims the only thing that stopped him was not having Roberto Mancini’s email address.
What riled Sunderland’s manager was the suggestion from Manchester City’s that after Monday’s derby, title rivals Manchester United’s last two games were “easy”.
It was all part of the much-trumpeted mind games which have become such a feature of Premier League title races since Kevin Keegan’s infamous tantrum live on television.
The Italian will be pleased to discover he has got under O’Neill’s skin. That, one suspects, was the aim all along.
Whether he needed to bother is open to debate. As all good professionals should, those in the Premier League pride themselves on the cliché that in England’s top-flight there are no easy games.
Sunderland should know – they failed to beat dismal Wolverhampton Wanderers home or away this season.
It is a point they will hope to prove if Manchester United pitch up at the Stadium of Light on the final day without title No.20 in the bag.
For those in mid-table, this can be a troublesome time of year. The Wearsiders know their obligations – to their fans, their profession and those like Mancini depending on them for favours.
Today Mark Hughes, Steve Kean, Roberto Martinez and Alex McLeish will be Sunderland supporters for an afternoon, when relegation rivals Bolton Wanderers visit the Stadium of Light.
While O’Neill will insist until he is blue in the face there is still plenty to play for – the difference between a strong finish and a limp one could literally run into millions of pounds – it is still hard to drag performances out of weary players. Is it any coincidence that the Black Cats have not won since going out of the FA Cup to Everton?
It goes against everything O’Neill believes in to go through the motions, which is why he was so prickly about Mancini’s pointed comment.
“It took me by surprise,” he says. “He obviously hadn’t checked that the games (United) play are against teams that have beaten Manchester City (this season) – Swansea and ourselves.
“We have taken four points off them but they have actually lost five against us. I think you have to shrug it off and remember it for the next four years!
“I don’t have an email address, but I really thought about sending him one to tell him to keep an eye on what he says. But I didn’t.