SUNDERLAND gave Martin O’Neill an idea last night of the power and the glory of the Stadium of Light at its finest.
And the Black Cats’ boss says that the taste has made him hungry for more during his time in charge of the Wearsiders.
Reflecting on the fervour of the fans in what turned out ultimately to be a night of great anticlimax for the red and white army, he admitted after the 2-0 FA Cup exit to Everton: “The cup run has given me a glimpse of what’s possible.
“I came out to see the stadium bouncing and it was a fantastic sight.
“The fans were expecting a great occasion and why shouldn’t they? This club should have high expectations.
“I’m not just saying that either – it’s a great club with a great history and nights like this have been too far and few between.
“And if there’s any consolation to be drawn from all of this from my players it’s that they should see that that passion and atmosphere is what this club is capable of, and occasions like that should be something they as players want more of.”
That his own players failed to rise to the occasion will be O’Neill’s abiding memory from the match and he refused to accept excuses or explanations after the defeat.
“We were ready for the night, I felt,” he sighed. “We saw the sort of atmosphere generated, the noise levels were absolutely terrific – something which should be experienced here more often.
“All in all, it was a great night for football, but it never happened for us. You can look at the schedule we’ve had, but Everton have had a gruelling schedule, too.
“The reality is that this is the tough end of the season and, I’m sorry, but we are at home and should have gone on to force the issue. I believe we should have done better.”
Now Sunderland will look to go on from here and finish the season well.
“We’ve got some tough fixtures ahead, obviously starting with Man City coming up this weekend,” said the Black Cats boss.
“Our cup run was great and we should have been able to continue it, particularly with us being at the Stadium of Light. It’s not been often we can criticise the players, but this game was definitely one where we could and that’s disappointing,
“I’m very disappointed myself.
“But, having said that, the players have done very well since December, very well indeed and we have to accept that Everton have a very decent side with very experienced players.
“I don’t think we should deceive ourselves that we have not got a team that has put heart and soul in since December, because they have.
“The quarter-final defeat, though, is perhaps a reminder of the fact that the job is still very much in progress here at Sunderland. We still have a long way to go before we’re the finished article.”