MARTIN O’Neill identified confidence as the vital ingredient in Sunderland’s best performance of the season.
The Black Cats manager’s faith in creative players Stéphane Sessègnon, James McClean and Adam Johnson was repaid with goals in a comfortable 3-0 win over West Ham United.
The recalled David Vaughan apart, it was largely the players who so under-performed in the first half of the season, but there are signs they are rediscovering the form of this time last year. “What is the difference? Deep down I’m not exactly sure,” manager O’Neill admitted. “There was more confidence about the team and that seemed to permeate to the crowd as well.
“After the game against Bolton (in the FA Cup) I gave those who weren’t injured a couple of days off because they put their heart and soul into the matches.
“There was a lot of vitality on Saturday, a lot of energy, which was great, maybe that gave them a bit of a lift. Maybe it was the second-half comeback last week against Bolton.
“Perhaps it did some of the team good to see we are trying to add a bit more strength in depth with Alfred (N’Diaye, signed last week from Bursaspor) coming in.”
Vaughan memorably scored Sunderland’s first goal under O’Neill but injuries soon got the better of him and only in the last two games has he produced his best football.
“David had problems in pre-season,” his manager explained. “He came out with us to Korea but he was injured.
“When he was coming back he had a few setbacks.
“He started the game against Bolton and I thought he was our best player, particularly when we were having a tough first half. He was still trying to get it down and manoeuvre it.”
Saturday’s was only Vaughan’s fourth start this season, and his first in the Premier League. “I thought he was excellent,” O’Neill purred.
Sessègnon more than justified O’Neill’s perseverance during a difficult start to the campaign, not that the manager was taking any credit. “I possibly have persevered with one or two players, not just him,” he added. “In my defence maybe we didn’t have that many alternatives.”