MICHAEL Turner has urged Sunderland to ensure Martin O’Neill’s return to Aston Villa is a happy one.
Black Cats boss O’Neill takes his place in the Villa Park dug-outs tomorrow for the first time since resigning as manager in August 2010.
Since O’Neill left the West Midlands, Villa have flirted with relegation during each of the last two seasons, with just six points separating Alex McLeish’s side from the drop zone.
Sunderland can heighten Villa’s worries tomorrow in the second of three games against sides involved in the survival fight after the Wearsiders extended their winless run to four games in last weekend’s stalemate with Wolves.
Centre-half Turner told the Echo: “I’m sure the manager and the other staff who were at Villa will be determined to get a result there.
“It’s going to be a big game for them, as it is for us, so we’re determined to win.
“On paper, you’d be looking at the next two against Villa and Bolton thinking ‘we can win them’.
“But that’s what we thought against Wolves and it didn’t materalise like that. We know we’ve got to work hard to win any game.
“At home, against a team at the bottom of the league, you’d be expected to win that three or 4-0.
“But going away from home, the pressure is probably off a little bit and hopefully, we can perform like we did at Man City (last month’s 3-3 draw).
“We took great confidence from that game, even though we were disappointed not to hold on.”
Villa are expected to welcome back several of their walking wounded tomorrow, with Charles N’Zogbia and Carlos Cuellar both challenging for starting spots, while England U21 winger Marc Albrighton is back in the fold after missing the last three games.
But former Sunderland striker Darren Bent remains sidelined with the ankle injury sustained against Wigan in February.
Villa have picked up just six points in the seven games since Bent was ruled out for the rest of the campaign.
And Turner knows the difficulty in replacing Bent’s goals after the Black Cats collected just 13 points in the 15 remaining games last season following the England international’s move to Villa Park.
“They’ve been playing with a lot of young players in the team and it’s difficult for them to pick up results, particularly when you’re not far from the relegation places,” said Turner.
“It’s been tough for them losing key players, as we’ve found out in the last couple of years.
“Bent is a goalscorer and he’ll always get you goals when he’s playing.
“But we’re still going to have to play well down there and fight to get anything from it.”
Sunderland returned to training yesterday after a scheduled day off on Wednesday, with O’Neill working his players hard this week following five hours without a goal.
Turner says the Black Cats cannot blame fatigue for their slump, though, challenging O’Neill’s men to finish with a flourish over the last four games.
“I don’t think we can use tiredness as an excuse,” added the 28-year-old.
“We’re training hard every day and we know we’ve got four games left now.
“We should be able to perform at high levels during 90 minutes of football.
“It’s probably a mental thing, I would have thought and we need to get back on it.
“We had a slow start to the season and then the new manager came in and went on a great run with some brilliant results.
“It’s died off a little bit, but the lads are determined to finish the season well and go into the summer’s break on a high.”