Martin O'Neill

MON's Southampton preview

by Stuart Vose

Boss: Squad must fight for every inch.

Martin O’Neill feels Sunderland have a gruelling Christmas programme ahead of them but says the spirit in the camp remains strong.

The Black Cats boss takes his side to Southampton this weekend before hosting Manchester City and Spurs between Christmas and New Year.

The compressed festive schedule offers 12 league points between now and January 2, when Sunderland head to Liverpool.

They’re difficult games, but we’ll take it one at a time. Southampton are in form at the moment and have some good confidence

- Martin O'Neill

And O’Neill is hoping to get Christmas off to a good start at Southampton, who have hit form following a tricky start to the season.

“It’s a tough programme for us with four games in relatively quick succession,” he said.

“If we’re comparing and contrasting with last year, we played Queens Park Rangers a couple of days before Christmas, but this year there's an extra Saturday to be put in.

“We played Everton on Boxing Day last year and then didn’t have another game until New Year’s Day, but this year it’s pretty well packed.

“They’re difficult games, but we’ll take it one at a time. Southampton are in form at the moment and have some good confidence.

“I watched them win at QPR and they have a good spirit amongst them.

“But our spirit is still strong too, despite the defeat at Manchester United, and we know this is a game we really have to compete in.”

However, O’Neill says his side must get back to performing for the full 90 minutes, as they did in their last home outing against Reading.

“I go to back to the Norwich game, where the second half was as different as night and day,” he added.

“The second half was pretty good at Manchester United, when we started to compete again.

“Having won against Reading, there was no reason to not go there and compete. However, we have to do that from minute one, not the 31st minute or 52nd minute of a match.

“You can draw all sorts of conclusions and many would be wrong, but I felt we gave them a wee bit too much respect. That’s something we should tend not to do.”

Saturday’s opponents are a point and a place behind the Black Cats after piecing together an excellent run of recent form.

The Saints have taken 11 points from their last six games and O’Neill is a big fan of the renewal job boss Nigel Adkins has done on the south coast.

“He’s had a really good time there and you always felt Southampton were attached to the top flight, from the old First Division to the Barclays Premier League,” he said.

“They’ve fought their way back in there and will be doing everything they possibly can to retain that status.

“If we’re talking about institutions, we’re a fairly sizeable one ourselves and it’s up to us to realise that nothing’s going to be given to us.

“We have to fight every inch of the way every day from August right through until May.”