MARTIN O’Neill cut a disconsolate figure at the end of Saturday’s last-gasp Premier League defeat by Arsenal.
Even though all the talk afterwards was about what a good run Sunderland had had up to this point – that the team he had taken over in such dire circumstances two months previously had taken up to now to lose a game at home – the manager was struggling to see it.
“I thought we didn’t deserve to lose the game,” he said, furrow-browed.
“I thought our exertions in the FA Cup (at Middlesbrough in midweek) played their part in the outcome.
“It was a big, big effort by the team.
“But it wasn’t a great goal, from our viewpoint, to concede in the last minute.
“When you get to that stage of the game – and I know we were very tired, I know that from the extra time midweek – you have to just make sure you see it out.
“It’s really disappointing to lose the game, but if you’re not going to win it in the last couple of minutes, make sure you don’t lose it – perhaps that’s something the players can learn from the game.”
After a moment of reflection though, O’Neill was at pains to point out that his disappointment should not be interpreted as censuring his players.
“Obviously, I’m a bit disappointed about the goal, but I have no complaints whatsoever about the team itself,” he said.
“I’m just disappointed to have lost from having been in a winning position.
“I genuinely have to say I have no criticism of the team whatsoever in the last couple of months.
“It has been a fantastic effort.
“The boys just need a bit of energy again – which they’ll get during the course of the week – and we will be ready for next week (Arsenal visit the Stadium of Light again in the FA Cup fifth round).”