WHEN the going gets tough for Sunderland at White Hart Lane this weekend, Martin O’Neill will have one simple message for his players: “Keep going.”
The new manager was delighted with the resolve his side showed in carving out a win over Blackburn Rovers last Sunday despite trailing to a Simon Vukcevic goal going into the last 10 minutes.
And he believes the same spirit of defiance will go a long way when Sunderland face one of the Premier League’s powerhouse sides in the shape of Harry Redknapp’s impressive outfit.
“Spurs are a very, very fine side and Harry has done a great job there,” he said.
“They were struggling when he first arrived but they have done remarkably well under him and have had an exceptional couple of seasons now.
“From our point of view we’ve got to look to do ourselves justice in difficult circumstances but I’m confident that we can do that after the win over Blackburn last Sunday.
“The most encouraging aspect of that game for me was that we kept going.
“From the players’ experiences this season alone – where they’ve knocked on the door but been unable to break through – then maybe they could have been forgiven for letting their heads drop towards the end and start thinking ‘here we go again’
“And I think it was that ability just to keep going that stood us in really good stead.
“We just kept on going and got our rewards and we have to try doing exactly the same against Spurs.
“It’s a different set of circumstances again on Sunday.
“We have to eke out a result to some extent. We have to try. We have to work exceptionally hard again.
“But I think the confidence we got from last Sunday – I know it’s only one victory – but it does restore some confidence, and I think that with that confidence, good players can definitely play a bit better and give us a chance.”
O’Neill is not fooling himself about the challenge ahead, especially with Spurs still smarting over a luckless 2-1 defeat to Stoke City which owed more to the poor refereeing of Chris Foy, than anything else.
And the Northern Irishman has watched with interest the rise of the North Londoners and their bid to break the stranglehold of what had become established until recently as the Premier League’s Big Four.
“Tottenham’s efforts to get into the Champions League a couple of seasons ago were fantastic,” he said.
“And their efforts in the Champions League, in what was a very difficult group, were also fantastic.
“They’ve benefited that experience and of course they’ll want to have it again.
“I see there’s even talk emanating from White Hart Lane about being challengers for the title this season.
“I don’t know about that but they’re certainly contenders for the top four and they are a very good team.
“Of the game itself, I would expect them to have far more possession at home than Blackburn had at the Stadium of Light.
“That’s only natural. I accept that. But at the same time, you don’t just give it up.
“You have to be positive, try to play you own game, win the ball off them and manoeuvre it, and these are the sort of things we’ll be trying to do at the weekend.
“More than anything though we have to keep our self-belief and keep going.”