Chris Young’s big-match verdict: New era in need of instant lift-off

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AT 1.28pm, the Stadium of Light will euphorically unite in welcoming the figure charged with arresting a year-long downward spiral.

The wholesale approval of perennial people’s choice Martin O’Neill will see the stayaways return and foster a belief that Sunderland finally have a manager who can convert false dawns into a new dawn.

But by 1.30pm on Sunday, the goodwill gestures will be put to one side as O’Neill is instantly forced to wave his magic wand in a game the Black Cats can ill-afford to fall short in.

Sunderland have been cursed in front of the television cameras for the last 12 months – suffering defeat in every live match they have played since beating Bolton last December.

The satellite Gods certainly conspired against the Black Cats at Molineux last weekend in front of the watching O’Neill, as Sunderland descended to a new level of self-destruction.

It is imperative there are no more blunders, blown leads or spurned chances on Sunday.

Sunderland need O’Neill’s arrival to inject some momentum into a campaign which has spluttered along and barely lurched out of first gear.

Ideally, his presence in the stands alone would have sparked Sunderland to success in the Black Country and lifted the confidence of a set of punch-drunk players.

But defeat against Mick McCarthy’s men was yet another body-blow and left supporters facing a stark reality of the job facing Steve Bruce’s successor.

A third consecutive loss to a side struggling below Sunderland in the bottom echelons of the table would further deflate the feel-good factor of O’Neill’s appointment.

Looking at Sunderland’s precarious position above the drop zone too, O’Neill desperately needs a winning start to earn some breathing space.

With in-form Spurs, league leaders Manchester City and bogey side Everton to come in the next four games, Sunderland will be staring down the barrel if they fall below Blackburn in the table.

Blackburn’s thumping victory over Swansea gives them the confidence edge too, albeit the club remains embroiled in turmoil over their own managerial position.

Steve Kean would reportedly have followed Bruce to the dole queue had Blackburn lost to the Swans last weekend and his position surely remains under threat after demands for his head even when Rovers had their noses in front.

His saviour may prove to be former Middlesbrough hitman Yakubu.

Few of Blackburn’s rugged, seasoned Premier League pro’s have shown the inclination to spare Kean the boot. It has mainly been left to rookies such as Mauro Formica and Ruben Rochina to provide the rare moments of joy in a wretched campaign.

But Yakubu is in form and full of confidence, testified by a sublime finish for his opener against Swansea, followed by three more examples of his predatory power.

With Michael Turner still ailing, it will be left to Wes Brown and John O’Shea to silence Yakubu, rather than allocating penalty area licence to the opposition’s dangerman, as they did with Steven Fletcher last Sunday.

How Sunderland could do with a striker in Yakubu’s mould. with O’Neill’s immediate task to inject some confidence and ruthlessness into his side’s attack.

Until Connor Wickham and Fraizer Campbell return in time for the New Year celebrations, there is little chance for the ex-Celtic boss to tinker with his personnel up front.

Nicklas Bendtner, providing he recovers from a groin strain, arguably provides the biggest test of O’Neill’s man-to-man abilities.

The Dane has shown during his loan spell that the ability is unquestionably present in his quick feet.

But for the last three games, the on-loan Arsenal man has looked off-the-pace and spent too much time out of harm’s way on the flanks.

That would be permissible if Sunderland had a goal-hanger in their midst, yet Ji Dong-won was similarly ineffective on his first Premier League start at Wolves.

Some will continue to call for the inclusion of the more predatory Ryan Noble and there is hardly a gaping chasm between the 20-year-old and Ji.

But after just one week on the training ground with his new charges, the suspicion is that O’Neill will keep his changes to a minimum - perhaps just the enforced one of replacing suspended skipper Lee Cattermole.

David Meyler, David Vaughan and Craig Gardner will all be pressing to take Cattermole’s place, but the latter is perhaps the most likely to get the nod, given O’Neill’s familiarity with the former Aston Villa man.

Goals of course are Gardner’s currency and Sunderland have been teetering with football bankruptcy for most of the season.

If O’Neill can cash in with victory this weekend, then his reign filled with such promise of riches, will have a much-needed lift-off.

Verdict: Home win