Martin O'Neill

MON ramping up preparations

by Kate Smith

Boss pleased to have international stars back.

Martin O’Neill says he’s been boosted by the return of his international players ahead of this weekend’s home game against Newcastle.

The Sunderland squad is back to regular strength once again following the latest round of international fixtures across Europe and beyond.

The full complement of players returned to training at the Academy of Light this morning and O’Neill says the real derby preparations start now.

“The first thing that would have concerned me would be getting the players back from international duty,” he told 

The stadium will be full for Sunday’s match and that should evoke a really good atmosphere. Obviously I’m looking forward to it.

- Martin O'Neill

“Once we have them back, you feel as if you can start making plans.

“Interestingly, today we had two different groups training, with one containing those players who have played plenty of football during the international break.

“That included the likes of Seb Larsson and a few others. They trained separately.

“Meanwhile, Adam Johnson, who didn’t get any time on the field [with England] trained with the rest of the squad as normal.

“I think our first ‘normal’ day will be tomorrow, but we’ve got that extra day to prepare. It’s the same for both sides.”

O’Neill admitted he was disappointed by Sunderland’s 3-0 defeat at Manchester City last time out after the Black Cats found themselves a goal down after just five minutes.

The Sunderland boss says that underlines a need to start well this Sunday but admits his side can’t focus on games past – whether that be the City defeat or any other.

“There’s no point downing tools – we still have our own quality and that didn’t shine through in the game [at City],” he explained.

“The disappointing thing from my viewpoint was that we didn’t put up a better struggle.

“We were a goal behind and chasing the game within five minutes.

“I cast my mind back to the game at St James’ Park last season and for the first 20 minutes it was nearly all us.

“But I have say it’s a different day, different time, different everything.”

As ever, demand for tickets has been high with a sell-out crowd guaranteed this weekend.

And O’Neill is relishing his first time in a derby dug-out at the Stadium of Light, with home fans now behind both goals.

“I thought the atmosphere for both our home league games so far, against Liverpool and Wigan, was exceptionally good,” he added.

“The stadium will be full for Sunday’s match and that should evoke a really good atmosphere. Obviously I’m looking forward to it.”