ANY self-respecting Messiah knows the value of a good entrance.
If you’re going to perform miracles, then ideally circumstances need to be as grim as they can be before you bring the dawning of the new light.
So Sunderland sliding ominously into the relegation zone for the first time this season and the team coming within five minutes of subsiding to another home defeat against a side in the bottom three, provided the perfect backdrop yesterday.
Then, just as things were looking their bleakest in the growing December gloom at the Stadium of Light; just as you were wondering whether those were vultures rather than seagulls circling overhead: came the comeback from the dead.
“It was surreal,” beamed O’Neill, still trying to wipe the grin off his face shortly after two goals in the last half-a-dozen minutes had rendered Blackburn’s first-half opener redundant.
“I felt, with 10 minutes to go, it was going to be a case of deja vu,” the Northern Irishman added after securing a precious victory in his first match in charge of the Black Cats.
“It felt a lot like the Wolves game – that we’d had loads and loads of possession in the game, still kept trying to play it right, but just couldn’t get it to go our way.
“I did feel that, at some stage, we deserved a break, were due it, and thankfully it came.
“We got a great goal from David Vaughan and, all of a sudden, you could feel the whole place lift because of it.
“Then we went on to get the second goal, which was just a dream.”
O’Neill has been careful to eschew the role of Sunderland’s saviour since taking on the job from the increasingly snookered Steve Bruce.
He has played down his schoolboy affiliations to Sunderland’s cause, primarily because he feels uncomfortable with the local hero tag before he has accomplished anything.
Mention of the word “Messiah” in his presence would undoubtedly make him cringe.
Nevertheless, there is a definite rebirth here, even if it is only in O’Neill’s own thrill for the joys the game can bring.
“Winning that game?” he mused “It brought it home to me exactly what I’ve been missing.