ALTHOUGH the same criticism could be made of Sunderland’s performance against Manchester United as was made of the Black Cats’ showing at Norwich recently – that they only really started to perform well once the game had gone – Martin O’Neill was in the mood to take the positives out of Saturday’s 3-1 defeat.
Having witnessed United create a host of great chances in the first hour, he was grateful not to be facing humiliation.
And pleased, too, that his players were still capable of giving United a little bit of a scare late on.
“We never gave up and we gave them a few anxious moments,” he said.
“We got it back to 3-1 and we had a few more chances after that – I thought we could have converted one or two of those.
“If we had done, it would have been interesting.
“It’s all ‘ifs, buts and maybes’ but certainly I think we can take heart from how we performed in the second half.”
United boss Sir Alex Ferguson also noted Sunderland’s spirited late surge.
He hailed his players for producing a match-winning performance that keeps United six points ahead of rivals Manchester City and will guarantee them top spot in the Premier League come Christmas Day.
But he insisted his side could not relax and coast to victory despite a scintillating opening hour’s play.
He said: “I don’t know whether we relaxed when it got to 3-0 or Sunderland got a grip of themselves, but they started to play well.
“They could have had two or three goals at the end of the game.
“It would have been embarrassing.
“It became a real fight of a game in the last 20 minutes of the match, so I’m just glad to get a good result.”
It underlined O’Neill’s insistence that his players give it their best shot in every game, regardless of how good the opposition might be.
“You don’t just turn around and say forget it,” he emphasised.
“Every game you play in the Premier League, you should feel you have a chance.
“You have to battle and perform as well as you positively can and I thought, especially late on, that we did that.”