MARTIN O’Neill will stay at Sunderland beyond his present contract and lead the team into Europe according to one of the club’s favourite sons, Michael Gray.
The former left-back who made over 400 appearances for Sunderland, believes the Irishman is “perfect” for his home town club. Gray never thought O’Neill would consider walking away even before Christmas when it looked for all the world that this season would be little more than a tough battle against relegation.
However, a vast improvement in results and some new signings have given the supporters greater belief that the campaign will be about more than mere Premier League survival.
And Gray confidently predicted better times ahead for the club he served for 14 years.
He said: “The fans are of the opinion that Martin is the best man for Sunderland and that there is nobody out there better than him if for some reason he did leave, and I agree. He is a perfect fit for our football club.
“He will take Sunderland into Europe. It won’t happen this season, but I can see that happening sooner rather than later.
“It’s what the support wants, the city wants and Martin is the
type of manager who lives for success. Martin, and I am sure of this, will take Sunderland into a position where we all believe we should be, even if success is not a God-given right. However, we have the right manager to take us that step forward.
“Martin has his spark back. You can see that in his interviews and the way he is back to being so animated on the touchline. He’s back to being bubbly, if you like. That is a huge bonus for the fans.
“Look, it’s impossible to judge what is going through a man’s mind by looking at his mannerisms from a weekly television interview. But a few weeks ago he did look under pressure when results were bad and there were stories doing the rounds about him leaving. He wasn’t himself either on the touchline or in interviews.
“But I never had a doubt he would see out his two-and-a-half year deal he signed and I hope he extends that. I think he will. The fans like seeing him back to being his bubbly self, kicking ever ball at the side of the pitch. It’s great to see him being so passionate.”
Sunderland could give themselves a massive boost by beating in-form Arsenal at the Stadium of Light this Saturday, a result that would go some way to negating last weekend’s dismal defeat at Reading.
Gray is hoping to see a similar performance to the one that saw Manchester City defeated on Boxing Day, a result which kick-started Sunderland’s Premier League season.
He said: “Arsenal have really picked up. They are playing well, winning games and, to be honest, it’s always a hard game no matter what. But we shouldn’t be afraid of anyone at the Stadium of Light.
“The players were outstanding in the win over City and it would be great to see another performance of that quality.
“It’s amazing what some wins can do for confidence. You can see that in the players. Last week was disappointing, but I bet the atmosphere at the training ground has been good over the past month or so.
“We’ve got 29 points and are sitting just outside the top ten, which is miles better than were we where a few weeks ago.”
And Gray fancies a flutter on a certain new signing scoring this weekend.
He said: “I have a feeling Danny Graham will score against Arsenal. He knows there is a small percentage of fans he’ll need to win over, but he’ll do that because he is a natural goalscorer.”
Meanwhile, French striker Louis Saha, whose Sunderland contract was cancelled by mutual consent last month, has joined Italian side Lazio.
The 34-year-old failed to find the net in his 11 substitute league appearances this season for the Black Cats after arriving at the club at the start of the campaign.
MICHAEL Gray helped to launch Barclays Pingit technology in its ‘Don’t Pass it, Ping it’ interactive experience.
Pingit is a new technology from Barclays, which allows people to send and receive money via an app on their mobile phone.
The ‘Don’t Pass it, Ping it’ campaign will see a Pingit match-day Photobooth visit Barclays Premier League grounds across the country during the course of the season, including the Stadium of Light this Saturday from 1pm-3pm.