Focus key for boss O’Neill

by Kate Smith

Black Cats chief staying on even keel.

Martin O’Neill is retaining his customary calculated coolness as he gets ready to face former club Aston Villa this weekend.

The Sunderland manager admitted his side faced a test of character in the aftermath of the midweek cup defeat to Middlesbrough.

Villa head north this weekend with both sides looking for their second league win of the season.

But the Black Cats have only tasted defeat once in the league and O’Neill says he’s keeping progress firmly in perspective as he looks to guide his side back into the top half of the Barclays Premier League.

“So far in the league we have drawn a lot of games and I accept that,” he explained.

“We haven’t scored the number of goals I was hoping we would have done at this stage, and I also accept that.

“But the only game we have lost in the league is to the team who won it last season and are now playing Champions League football.

“I didn’t get overly excited last year by some of the results we got and I certainly wouldn’t be getting too down now.

“It’s a long, long season and I know that through my experiences.”

He added: “At this moment I think we’re entitled to be disappointed with our performances and I think the crowd are entitled to voice their disapproval.

“The fact is we didn’t create many chances in the game [on Tuesday].

“We have to rectify that on Saturday in what is a very big game, even at this stage of the season. Having said that I consider all 38 league fixtures to be big games.”

Sunderland head into Saturday’s game on the back of two league draws – at home to Newcastle and away at Stoke.

The Black Cats claimed a goalless draw at the Britannia Stadium last time out, and while O’Neill is happy with his side’s defensive solidity, he says the current attacking pattern must be broken.

“I think if Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal went to Stoke and got a draw, they’d be pretty pleased with it,” he explained.

“But we didn’t cause them many problems, even on the break, and that’s become part and parcel of our game.

“What we want to do now is become more of a threat. We’re more or less solid defensively, although that can change at any given minute.

“Manchester City put three goals past us and it could have been more in the last 15 minutes. But we’re not in Manchester City’s league at the moment.

“The teams we’re competing against are the ones we’re going to have to try and beat.”