Martin O’Neill ready for big day ... and then back to the usual routine

CUP HOPES ... Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill.

CUP HOPES ... Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill.

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MARTIN O’Neill hopes Sunderland can maintain their upwards trajectory regardless of the outcome of this weekend’s Tyne-Wear derby.

The Black Cats went on a downward spiral which culminated in Steve Bruce losing his job as manager after August’s meeting between the two fierce North East rivals – the Wearsiders winning just one of their subsequent seven games and crashing out of the Carling Cup.

While Bruce’s successor O’Neill is keen to avoid a similar slump if Sunderland again suffer the unthinkable at the Sports Direct Arena on Sunday, he is also wary of the Black Cats losing focus if they triumph on Tyneside.

O’Neill said: “I’m hoping regardless of the result on Sunday, we continue in the manner we’re going.

“Only time will tell what kind of effect the result has on both clubs. I’m hoping if we lost the game, it wouldn’t be the ruination of our season.

“But by the same token, it doesn’t mean if you win the game that you can plough on regardless and everything is rosy.”

O’Neill is well aware of the responsibility on his shoulders as he heads into his first meeting with Newcastle as Sunderland boss.

After spending five years in charge of Celtic, O’Neill knows the emotional torture which afflicts both the winning and losing managers.

He said: “The first Old Firm I did, we won the game 6-2. Chris Sutton scored a goal with about three minutes to go to make it 6-2 and I think that was the first moment I thought we might win.

“It’s like that, every single moment there seemed to be something happening. Even when you start to get used to a few, you’re very nervous about the games.

“It’s not just that day, you’re carrying hopes, expectations and ambitions for everyone concerned with the football club. If you lose them, you feel pretty lousy for a long time.

“Of course if you do win a few, you feel terrific. But the first feeling actually might be relief that it’s over.

“In Scotland, they play four derbies in the season and there’s the strong possibility of being drawn against each other again in the cups.

“Here it’s down to two per season and you have to put everything into these games.”

O’Neill is not the only one heading to the Sports Direct for the first time in red and white.

Just four survivors of the side from last season’s 5-1 derby defeat were in the starting line-up at West Brom last weekend, with one of those, Phil Bardsley, rated as a major doubt for Sunday’s clash with a calf problem.

“This could be more raucous than a lot of them have ever experienced,” added O’Neill. “People like Craig (Gardner) and Seb (Larsson) have played in Birmingham and Aston Villa derbies.

“But this is a particularly big game, there’s no denying that. It’s a ferocious derby probably played at a great pace.

“There’s lots of things to consider during the course of the game and during the build-up. But most importantly, the players need to go out and perform, and perform strongly.

“If we perform as strongly as we possibly can, then of course we can win the game.”