SUNDERLAND’S players are working harder than ever in a bid to turn their season around says Martin O’Neill.
The Black Cats are on a dispiriting run of just two wins in their last 21 leagues and, having taking just one point out of six in two home games in succession, are just a point above the relegation zone going into this weekend’s fixtures.
But O’Neill says that his players remain completely united in their determination to get things right at the club.
He told the Echo: “Are they working hard on the training pitch? Absolutely.
“There’s a desire and a willingness there and if we’re not winning games it is not for want of trying.
“I don’t think that I have ever worked at a club where the players have had more one-on-one training.
“We brought in Steve Guppy as a specialist coach primarily for our wide players because that is his area of proven expertise.
“But he has also been involved with individual players helping them with all sorts of practice sessions and they really have been been working to improve.
“James McClean and a couple of the other lads came in on their day off this week to practice, while Connor Wickham and Ji Dong-won were in at the crack of dawn the other day working on shooting practice.
“And shooting practice is something we’re working on in training all the time.
“So in terms of effort, I cannot complain about the players not working hard enough.”
Sometimes, all the practice in the world does not necessarily transmit itself into match-day situations.
And O’Neill admits that that has been a frustration but he is convinced that with the hard work put in, improvements can only be a matter of time.
He reflected: “You work on shooting practice all the time but there is shooting and there is shooting.
“For example, both my full-backs in recent games have had shots from outside the area where realistically they were always unlikely to score.
“They still count as shots but I’ve told them that in future they should look to get in that little bit closer to improve their chances of scoring.
“It’s all about taking what you do in practice into game situations.
“It’s not always easy but the key is just to work hard and repeat and repeat and repeat until things eventually do.
“What I’m very much aware of is that if you’ve got issues with how the team or players or performing or whether there is a little lack of confidence there, practice is always the key.
“If you work hard enough and intelligently enough at it in training then sooner or later it will come good.
“We haven’t had much go our way recently but we have to believe that if we keep on working hard enough things will come right and personally, I’m convinced they will.”