Martin O’Neill came out fighting yesterday amid reports of his early demise as Sunderland boss. Mark Douglas argues the time is nigh for his players to do the same
MARTIN O’Neill was at pains to point out he is going nowhere but then, maybe that’s part of the problem for the Sunderland manager at the moment.
One step forward followed by a lurch backwards of equal measure. We all recognise the improvement in the Black Cats since the nadir of their season against Middlesbrough.
However, it is yet to be borne out by collecting enough points to move them away from the danger zone – and that is a problem for O’Neill.
Forget the folly of inaccurate reports claiming he was in the process of tendering his resignation on Saturday night.
Those mischievous missives were countered by the man himself as he delivered a pre-match bravura show of wit and wisdom laced with the merest hint of venom.
What Sunderland need now is the players to show the same defiance and bravery in the face of what is likely to be a renewed challenge from Harry Redknapp’s Queens Park Rangers.
O’Neill seems up for the fight and was not backward about coming forward yesterday. Repeatedly, he said he accepted the criticism coming his way as Sunderland grasp for the consistency and competence which will take them away from the bottom three.
However, he fixed reporters with an icy stare when he – only half-jokingly – said he would not forgive or forget his critics when form finally turns.
He said: “There’s that film isn’t there, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Robert Redford’s character says: ‘I want to fight them, I want to fight them.
“I have the fight for the job. Absolutely – I would never have felt anything else.” Fight is what Sunderland need at the moment, not least as they complete a double-header of home games which simply has to yield at least one win if they are to remove themselves from the relegation candidates in time for the turn of the year.
The good news for O’Neill is Adam Johnson and Stephane Sessegnon (pictured left) – the two creative players Sunderland need to fire into life if they are to continue to score goals – appear to be rediscovering their form.
Along with Steven Fletcher, you feel the Black Cats possess a trio far too good to sustain these struggles.
However, the manager recognises there are still sizeable issues to solve before he can dream of the long-term success that he craves on Wearside.
O’Neill added: “It is pretty tough.