MARTIN O'Neill last night warned Sunderland supporters they may have to show some patience before their side is good enough to challenge for a European spot.
The manager admitted there was a “huge gap” between where his club are at the moment and fierce rivals Newcastle United, who go into this penultimate Premier League weekend a massive 20 points clear of their near neighbours and already assured of European football.
That is the amount of points Sunderland, 11th compared to United’s fifth place, would realistically have to make up for by this time next year to be in the Europa League qualifying zone.
O’Neill would have to somehow find a way to win seven more times next season, which would signify a massive turnaround, and even the Irishman at his most confident would concede that was a tough task to do in a year.
When the Sunderland boss was asked whether he could catch up with Newcastle at the first time of asking, he did not rule it out completely.
However, he was quick not to give false hope to a support who have suffered more than most from that in recent times. O’Neill said: “It is a big gap, I must admit. It is worthy ambition, however.
“It is a lot of points to gather up. I think you are right it to suggest it would be hard, but it is not unachievable.
“It would demand a great deal of work, but it is worth striving for.
“You have to balance everything now, particularly with the financial fair play rules.
“We think we can improve the team and squad. The team have shown in the last few months what hard work can do.”