GARY Bennett says Martin O’Neill will be searching his side for character tomorrow as they go into battle against a Manchester City team bidding to notch a record-equalling 21 home victories in a row.
The Black Cats face the most formidable task going to the Etihad Stadium this weekend where 15 teams have gone and 15 teams have failed so far this season to avoid defeat.
Should City beat the Black Cats tomorrow they will equal the record of 21 consecutive home victories set by Bill Shankly’s Liverpool.
And Bennett says the game from a Sunderland perspective is not about the result, but the performance.
He told the Echo: “It would be wrong to try to pull the wool over people’s eyes in terms of how difficult tomorrow’s game is going to be for Sunderland.
“People might look at it and say City drew at Stoke last week and haven’t hit the heights they hit at the start of the season.
“They might say they’re fading, that Man United are now top and that Sunderland beat City on New Year’s Day. But you can’t get away from that home record they have at the Etihad. It’s amazing.
“And records like that don’t happen by accident, they haven’t got lucky.
“The truth is that they’re fantastic at home – to win 15 games in a row at home is very, very rare and very, very special – and Sunderland are going to have their work cut out tomorrow to avoid being the16th scalp of the season.”
Bennett says, though, that O’Neill will be scrutinising his side’s display forensically tomorrow looking to find out exactly what they’re made of.
“In football, when you have a really bad setback, you have to respond,” said the former Sunderland skipper.
“Sunderland have had a bad setback with their cup disappointment against Everton on Tuesday night. They didn’t play well and there’s an awful sense of anti-climax about the place.
“And in those sort of circumstances, Martin O’Neill will be looking for Sunderland to try to get a bit of pride back in the way they perform against City.
“No one’s necessarily expecting them to come away with a win, or even a draw.
“But everyone connected with Sunderland will be looking for them to compete and the manager himself, who is planning for the future, will be looking for players who can show a bit of backbone and character.
“He’ll want them to give everything for the cause and show they’re not the type of player who can be blown off course by the occasional bad result.”