Black backs O’Neill to lift Sunderland spirits

Eric Black (left) and Nigel Spink
Eric Black (left) and Nigel Spink
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ERIC Black is backing new manager Martin O’Neill to lift the spirits of the Sunderland squad after insisting the Black Cats are close to success.

Black – caretaker boss since the sacking of Steve Bruce last Wednesday – was due to officially leave the club today after handing over the reins to the Northern Irishman.

And even though he is disappointed that he and Steve Bruce could not stop Sunderland’s slump this season, he is convinced the Wearsiders are more than good enough to stay in the top flight, and expects the incoming boss will bring the self-belief needed for the players to improve performances and results.

O’Neill was in the stands at Molineux on Sunday to see Sunderland throw away a lead to lose 2-1 in a defeat that typified their frailty this season to leave them fourth-bottom of the Premier League.

O’Neill’s presence failed to inspire Sunderland to a third win of the season, but supporters hope it will be a different story this Sunday when the 59-year-old takes charge for fellow relegation candidates Blackburn Rovers’ visit to the Stadium of Light.

“There are obvious reasons for Sunderland’s problems this season, but I’m sure Martin will focus on them and things will turn around,” said Black.

“I think there’s enough in the squad to stay up, although I accept we need to score more goals. It’s disappointing because we are not that far away from being a successful side.

“Hopefully the new manager can have an influence and help us up the table because there’s no doubt that we have quality players. We just haven’t been able to get a winning formula.”

O’Neill’s appointment on a three-year contract was confirmed on Saturday lunchtime, and he met the players for the first time on the same day.

Black also revealed that O’Neill had been a presence at Wolves.

“Martin came in to speak to the players before the game to wish the boys all the best, and came in at half-time and full-time,” he said.

“He will have seen the strengths that we have. I think he knows there are some good things to take forward, but I think he’ll also know that there are some problems.

“I’m sure he’ll start trying to rectify those problems straight away.”

O’Neill was due to take his first training session this morning before being introduced to the media this afternoon.