MARTIN O’Neill admitted his team shot itself in the foot with the nature of the goals conceded against Chelsea yesterday, writes Graeme Anderson.
Sunderland players fought hard and played well – a fact acknowledged at the final whistle by a crowd approaching 40,000.
But at vital moments they let themselves down with the quality of their defensive work and were punished for that by an improving Blues side putting a bad run behind them.
“The goals Chelsea scored either side of half-time in particular were major setbacks to us,”O’Neill said.
“The players put a big, big effort in, which was appreciated by the crowd who applauded us off the pitch.
“But we hadn’t helped ourselves with the goals we conceded.
“We had given ourselves too much to do.
“The players gave everything they could and they deserve credit for that – we played some good stuff.
“But we have to avoid giving away soft goals because, at this level, you get punished and it always seems you especially get punished if and when you’re on the sort of run we are now.”
Now O’Neill must lift his players for the game against Reading on Tuesday which he hopes will ensure Sunderland’s uncomfortable residency in the relegation zone is only the briefest of stays.
But he is likely to have to get a princely result against the Royals without the help of his leading scorer Steven Fletcher, who failed a fitness test at the weekend.
“Steven warmed up before the Chelsea match,” O’Neill confirmed.
“He wanted to do everything he could to be part of the game, but it wasn’t to be.
“I wasn’t too surprised because he was still uncomfortable on the morning of the game and I honestly don’t know if he will ready for Tuesday, which is a big game for us and, to be honest, was always going to be that.”