SUNDERLAND manager Martin O’Neill admitted he did expect the hostile reception he received from Aston Villa fans on his first return after he left the Midlands club 20 months ago.
However, he is adamant he left Villa in a stronger position than when he took over in 2006.
“I think it’s a very natural reaction considering I’ve been gone two years and they’ve never known my reasons for leaving,” he said. “It is very natural, I was expecting it and I got it.
“The timing was not great five or six days before the start of the season, but I think the team I left behind was infinitely better than the team I had started with.
“You had internationals galore and players who have gone to other clubs, James Milner, Ashley Young, Stewart Downing, and had great success.
“Listen, in the scheme of things it’s a sideshow today and the main event is the two teams. It will always be that.”
O’Neill, who saw his midfielder Craig Gardner sent off for two bookable offences, felt his side were denied victory when Nicklas Bendtner’s “goal” was ruled out for offside.
He said: “I think the linesman has incorrectly called offside against Bendtner because level is on.
“It certainly was last week anyway and unless they’ve changed the rules this morning, it’s still is now.
“They are having a tough time of things, the referees and linesmen, but they need to get that right, particularly as the linesman told one of our players to watch it again on TV.
“He was so adamant he had got it right. I hope he watches it himself before he settles down to his supper. I’m sure he will.”
Read a full match report, plus more reaction and photos, in tomorrow’s Echo.