MARTIN O’Neill breathed a massive sigh of relief yesterday at Sunderland advancing their points total on a weekend when so many of their rivals at the bottom of the Premier League also upset the odds.
The Sunderland manager had been as incredulous as any other fan on Saturday as he watched the relegation zone sides all take points from their games and relieved that his own men could follow suit by stunning leaders Manchester City.
But even though you could have got long odds on a Sunderland victory before kick-off, O’Neill was at pains to point out that the win was not some absolute fluke.
“I accept the fact that Manchester City were camped outside our penalty area for the last 20 minutes,” he acknowledged.
“But for us to get so many players up in support, when we broke forward in the 93rd minute, was fantastic.
“I was asked whether I was ushering them into the corner at the end, but, actually, I wasn’t.
“I just thought that even if we were dispossessed on the edge of their penalty box there wouldn’t be enough time for Man City to get back up the field, so, in those circumstances, let’s go and attack them.
“Ji played it square and Sessegnon – who was terrific for us – managed to manoeuvre it back to him to set up that last chance and we ended up winning the game.
“It was incredible, but it has been an incredible weekend for results generally and all I can say is that we are delighted to have the three points from this one.”
O’Neill travelled to see Wigan at Stoke on Saturday to run the rule over the opponents Sunderland will face at the DW Stadium tomorrow night and knows that there could be an incredibly close relegation battle in prospect this season.
He said: “Naturally, I wasn’t too pleased with the results on Saturday – especially Blackburn winning – because we are still fighting for our lives here.
“I watched Wigan play and they showed remarkable spirit to fight back to 2-2 and we will have our work cut out against them on Tuesday.
“But the weekend’s results probably say a lot about the league and just how competitive it can be.”
O’Neill, though, could take satisfaction from Sunderland’s own great result and the joy it brought to a big home crowd.
He smiled: “The roar for the goal was deafening. And I was delighted to hear the roar for the final whistle a few seconds later as well!
“We had some has good chances in the game and if we had scored early on it might have given us something to hold on to.
“But, as the game went on, you just knew that the pattern would be that we would have to defend for our lives and throw bodies in front of the ball to make blocks.
“Not only did we do that, though, we had the commitment to go chasing the ball into their half in the dying seconds and Ji has tucked one away – fractionally offside or not.
“To be honest, we’d brought him on to close City down and stop them mounting so many attacks, to get him in positions where he could stop them making rushes through the middle and to be somewhere to receive the ball when we were trying to get it out.
“In the end, though, he’s popped up with a winner which has made it as good a weekend for us as any other team in the Premier League.”