MARTIN O’Neill worried Tuesday’s hostile reception might put Danny Graham off joining Sunderland, but insists he never wavered in his determination to sign the £5m striker, writes STUART RAYNER.
Graham, who is set to make his Black Cats debut at Reading today, played his final game for Swansea City at the Stadium of Light this week. The 27-year-old came on as a 74th-minute sub and was booed by a section of Sunderland fans, who sang he was “nothing but scum”.
Fifty hours before the transfer deadline, O’Neill (left) was concerned it could dissuade Graham from a transfer he had been trying for weeks to agree.
That it did not reinforced his views about the player’s character.
“It was a thought,” the Sunderland boss admitted. “At that stage we were still trying to agree a fee.
“But it didn’t put him off and he was very pleased to come.
“I didn’t give it a great deal of thought at that stage because we were trying to get a goal ourselves. It was only afterwards when you start to think about it that you worry it might have an influence on him.
“I thought it might have an influence on him but not for me.
“I feel he will be given a chance here and performances
will determine everything.” O’Neill was not the only North East boss to think that way, with Middlesbrough’s Tony Mowbray giving Graham the easier option of a return to his former club only after hearing about Tuesday’s crowd reaction.
Gateshead-born Graham is not the first boyhood Newcastle United fan to play for Sunderland, but there was more than that to the terrace hostility, which appears to have divided supporters.
The main grievance is unguarded comments made to a Watford fanzine in his time at the club talking down his current employers. “When you are down in Watford that is pretty south and I’m not so sure you are thinking anything will go back up north several years later!” O’Neill reasoned.
“It is a bit like playing on the continent, making some comments and you never feel it will get back.
“Danny grew up as a Newcastle fan and that is fine. I hope I am not speaking out of turn but maybe (Teessider) Lee Cattermole’s dream was always to play for us when he was at Middlesbrough, but maybe it wasn’t.
“I think that sort of thing in a fanzine, reasonably-minded Sunderland supporters would forgive that if he starts to do well.” Today’s Premier League game is at the Madejski Stadium, changing the nature of the matchday support. Travelling fans represent the hardcore of a fanbase, and do not necessarily share the prevailing views at home games.
Graham will go into today’s squad and certainly appears undaunted, telling his new club’s official website: “I’m glad to get going straight away, training with the boys and then travelling for that first game.
“I’m really looking forward to it – the match can’t come quickly enough.”
Danny Rose and Carlos Cuellar could feature in Berkshire after returning to training this week from hamstring injuries, but Cattermole would represent a greater risk, having suffered more pain from his troublesome knee.
The captain has played once since November, at home to Bolton Wanderers in the FA Cup. He has twice returned to training since, but both times he felt pain in the joint.
“It’s a ligament injury and I know what it is like,” said O’Neill. “You feel a twinge in training and worry about it.
“You need to go and see the physios but they’re telling him they think it is fine. They are things you have to accept and I go with them when they say it is solvable.”
Cattermole did not miss training yesterday as a result of Thursday’s setback.