O'Neill relishing tough tests

by Stuart Vose

Manager speaks ahead of Manchester United’s visit.

Martin O’Neill feels his side should relish playing in what he describes as some “fantastic” matches coming up over the next few weeks.

Saturday’s visit of Manchester United kicks off a sequence of games which also sees the Black Cats travel to Chelsea and Newcastle before hosting Everton.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s Red Devils head north boasting a 15-point lead at the top of the table – a position O’Neill says they deserve.

But the Wearside chief is looking for his own side to take hold of the occasion as they look to move up the Barclays Premier League table.

“The performance at home last time out [against Norwich] wasn’t too good – we didn’t create enough against 10 men,” he said.

“There are great games coming up; fantastic matches which whet the appetite. It’s up to us to do something about it.

“[Manchester United] are well clear in the league with some big games coming up.

“Of course, Manchester United have been the best side in the league this season. They’ve come from behind in matches to win, and won a lot of games.”

Saturday’s game comes after players from both sides returned from a slew of international fixtures with their respective countries.

United face Chelsea in a cup replay just two days after their assignment on Wearside, but O’Neill says his counterpart, Sir Alex, can called on his side’s famed squad strength.

Regardless, the Sunderland chief preferred to concentrate on his own side ahead of the key fixture.

“Whatever side they put out will be capable of winning matches, as has been proved year in, year out,” he said.

“But it’s about what we do ourselves. We have some matches to win. There are games coming up which are difficult on paper, but we should look forward to them.

“We need to win games and the sooner we do that the better.”

O’Neill confirmed on Wednesday that striker Steven Fletcher and captain Lee Cattermole would miss the rest of the season with ankle and knee injuries respectively.

But the Sunderland chief’s response is a pragmatic one as he has called on others to step up, step in and fill the gaps.

“Obviously it’s not great, but it’s something we have to get over,” he said. “Injuries are inevitable over the course of a season, though they’ve come at a bad time for us.

“It’s a blow, but there’s nothing that can be done about it.

“Other people now have an opportunity to go and play in some really big games. There’s some fantastic matches and a chance [for players coming in] to show their mettle.”

O’Neill also confirmed that defender Carlos Cuellar will miss the game but said he’s “hopeful” that Stephane Sessegnon will be fit.