MARTIN O’Neill believes Sunderland set a benchmark for the second half of their season on Saturday. But there was no chance of the manager convincing himself all their problems have been solved.
The Black Cats produced their best performance of the campaign to sweep West Ham United aside 3-0, and without their new recruits.
Alfred N’Diaye did not leave the bench until the game was won (though he was a smidgeon of late curl away from adding to the victory margin), and Kader Mangane only joined yesterday afternoon. Now O’Neill will demand more of the same in tonight’s FA Cup replay against Bolton Wanderers.
“It has to be the benchmark,” he said. “It was a very fine performance that started early in the game. We got them turned and were able to keep it going.
“(Sebastian) Larsson’s goal gave us all a lift, but that might have been the second goal in the game, so well had we started. My concern during the course of the match was that having played so well, maybe we didn’t find ourselves that far in front and there was always a chance of West Ham getting back into it. The second goal was great for us just after half-time, but the first time I took any sigh of relief was when James McClean scored the third one. Even then we had a couple of anxious moments, but overall it was very good and that has to be the benchmark.
“Not all ailments have been cured just because we played well against West Ham. We’re are still a fair distance away.
“We have to try and add a bit of consistency to our play. Bolton will cause us plenty of problems but I’m hoping that confidence boost against West Ham will stand us in good stead.” Stéphane Sessègnon was back to last season’s form, although again his manager was quick to stress there is still work to be done.
“He played brilliantly in the game, and played very well against Manchester City too,” said O’Neill.
“When he’s in that sort of form, he’s really irresistible. If he could finish all his good work when he gets into the penalty area, he would be pretty much sensational.”
The winner’s of tonight’s tie – decided by extra-time and penalties if needed – host Everton in round four.