MARTIN O’Neill will call for more lung-bursting effort from his players against Everton this afternoon, after extolling the virtues of hard work already put in against Spurs and Manchester City.
The Sunderland boss travelled to Goodison Park hoping to make it a trio of games without defeat today – all against sides higher up in the Premier League table than his own.
And he believes the sheer application of his players has been the key to the good results so far.
“We’ve taken points from Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur – who are both teams you’d expect to be in the Champions League places at the end of the season,” he reflected, ahead of today’s match.
“And we’ve done it because the players have given every ounce of effort possible.
“We can’t match the ability of these teams at this moment in time, so the only way we can get things from the game is for every player to be at it for pretty much every minute of the game.
“And the players have managed that.
“In terms of our development, you look across at Spurs’ bench at the weekend with a bit of envy because you look at the quality of the players they can bring on and you’re reminded of the fact that they were challenging for the title a couple of months ago.
“That’s why we had to work so hard to get the result.
“We know we don’t have their quality, so it’s all about spirit and hard work, although we should remember our players also have great ability.
“We will travel back to Goodison Park hoping to play as strongly as we did there a few weeks ago, but possibly with a tinge of regret.
“We will have to play very strongly to get something from the game. We played very well there in the FA Cup although we were disappointed to lose at home in the replay.”
O’Neill has been delighted with his players’ efforts since their FA Cup quarter-final disappointment against today’s opponents. He said after Saturday’s goalless draw against Tottenham: “I can complain about one or two things – like misplaced passes, things like that – but I have never criticised their effort, because you can’t.
“They’re giving us so much.”
Sunderland went into today’s game with knocks almost certain to rule out Lee Cattermole and Phil Bardsley.
Both players aggravated injuries in the draw with Spurs – Cattermole, knee; Bardsley, groin – both likely to declare themselves available but both likely to be rested anyway.
In addition, Nicklas Bendtner was a doubt with a slight back strain.
O’Neill said: “Lee was excellent, a real captain against Spurs and when I had to bring him off for his own good towards the end I was pleased that the crowd responded to him and give him the applause his display deserved.
“Both he and Phil are likely to need a bit of time to rest and recuperate, but, on the bright side, Fraizer Campbell will soon be ready to be involved again after hurting his knee last week.”