MARTIN O’NEILL insists that Sunderland must strike the first blow in tonight’s big relegation showdown with Reading.
The Black Cats have fallen behind in three of their last four games and finished on the losing side on each occasion, despite spirited second half comebacks.
O’Neill knows Sunderland cannot afford to give second bottom Reading such a head-start tonight as the 18th placed Black Cats look to climb out of the drop zone.
And the Sunderland boss has ordered his side to come out of the blocks quickly at the Stadium of Light tonight and grab the opening goal to secure only a second home victory since March.
O’Neill told the Echo: “We have to start on the front foot and get the first goal, rather than chase matches as we have had to do in recent weeks when we’ve fallen behind.
“Despite this great charge that we were able to mount in the second half against West Brom, Norwich and for parts of the game against Chelsea, we didn’t get any points from those matches.
“It is important that we start better so that confidence returns quickly, rather than end up chasing things.
“I think Reading will be dangerous, I’ve seen them a number of times this season and they still retain a really good spirit.
“And they’ve got one or two players who can cause us plenty of problems.
“But it’s a big game for us and regardless of how Reading come into it, we have to be absolutely positive ourselves and take the game to them.”
Sunderland fell into the relegation zone for the first time during O’Neill’s tenure on Saturday after Chelsea secured a 3-1 victory on Wearside.
But the crowd tellingly continued to roar the Black Cats on as they refused to buckle and O’Neill hopes his side can produce a similar reaction tonight, rather than letting anxiety creep onto the terraces.
“If we can avoid what I would term elementary mistakes, we will give ourselves a chance,” he added.
“The crowd stayed with the team on Saturday and I think the reason for that was that they saw a major effort by the players.
“If they see that again tonight, I think it will be exactly the same.
“That’s what they (the crowd) are looking for – something on the pitch to spark it all off and that’s what we intend to give them.”