DESPITE giving his side every credit for earning a draw at Arsenal on Saturday, Martin O’Neill made it clear he expects his team to improve in the weeks ahead.
Assessing Sunderland’s goal threat at the Emirates, he said: “I expect us to get better in front of goal in time and we certainly need to, because we’ve got a home game coming up this weekend and we want to win it.”
O’Neill puts as much responsibility – if not more – on his own shoulders for that hoped-for upswing, than he does on his players.
The manager knows that the handful of top-quality signings he could make before the transfer deadline would dramatically transform his side’s attacking potential.
But until then he is prepared to play the hand which gives Sunderland the best chance of getting the best result.
And if that means continuing with the 4-5-1 formation which gave his team a solid start to the season on Saturday, then so be it. “I’ve no problem playing 4-5-1 because it gives us the strength in midfield we need right now,” he said. “It also gives us width.
“But I will play the formation which best suits the players we have and, as things stand, we need more strikers.
“We need more flair in the team and if we had those players, then we would play differently.
“But I’m hoping to do something about that. Let me put it this way, we need more players, otherwise it will be a tough old time ahead for us.”
In the meantime, the manager was full of praise for the efforts of the players he could put on the pitch at the weekend.
“I’m delighted with the performance and result,” he said. “It was a great and fantastic effort by the team. Once we started getting tired, Arsenal started to play through us, but that’s when we needed the heroic defending that we got.
“We’ve had a disappointing pre-season, but Arsenal was the big thing and at least we are off the mark.
“I thought Carlos Cuellar was outstanding on debut, while Louis Saha also showed some really promising touches when he came on for his debut, too.
“I was pleased with Jack Colback and I think he can still offer more. As for Lee Cattermole, he was excellent and he’s been excellent since I came into the club.
“I could talk him up more, but he’s in the last year of his contract – so, come to think of it, on reflection I thought he played rubbish!”
O’Neill also thought it was as good a time as any to be playing the Gunners.
“I thought the heat didn’t help Arsenal,” he said. “And I was pleased that their build-up was a wee bit slow.
“There’s also the fact that Robin van Persie is a major loss for them – a brilliant player and a real fans’ favourite.
“I wondered whether the Arsenal fans would put the van Persie sale behind them and just get behind the team and there were signs that that was the case.
“But he’s always going to be a player you’ll miss and that’s something they have to come to terms with.
“As things stand, it is opening day and I’m delighted, but in the scheme of things it’s not a definitive result for us or for Arsenal.”