MARTIN O’Neill says he is not interested in bemoaning his injury list ahead of a demanding festive fixture list which will test his squad to the limit.
Tomorrow’s game against Southampton kicks off a run of five games in a fortnight at a time when Sunderland’s players have been falling like nine-pins.
Steven Fletcher and Adam Johnson were both substituted struggling with injuries against Manchester United last week, while Danny Rose failed a late fitness test before the match at Old Trafford to join Phil Bardsley on the recently injured list.
But O’Neill says Sunderland have to shrug off these setbacks to produce a festive programme to be proud of.
“At the moment, it is really tough for us and we are losing players at important stages but I see other managers talking about the same thing so it isn’t as if we’re alone,” he said.
“Plenty of clubs have injury worries at the moment and we’re not unusual.
“We just have to get our heads down and get on with it and not look to use that as an excuse for anything.
“I haven’t forgotten that just over a year ago, on New Year’s Day, we played the league leaders Manchester City and we had all sorts of injury problems that day.
“Keiren Westwood, our goalkeeper, had to pull out on the morning of that game with illness and we had to ask Simon Mignolet to play a game of football weeks before he was fully recovered from a bad facial injury.
“We also had to experiment with two central midfielders at full-back for that game because we were so short and I think pretty much everyone thought we were going to be lambs to the slaughter that particular day.
“But we showed great spirit in the game and won the match and we have to show some of that same spirit in these next few games ahead of us now.”
Southampton are the Premier League minnows among the mighty in the impending fixture list – the recently-promoted Championship side facing Sunderland before the Black Cats take on Man City, Spurs and Liverpool.
But O’Neill says he wouldn’t be surprised to see the Saints giving Sunderland as hard a game as anyone this season.
He said: “Southampton have a resilience about them, as newly-promoted sides often do after gaining so much confidence on the way to going up and they’ll be difficult to beat.
“I’ve watched them a few times and as it turns out in most of the games I’ve watched them in, they’ve managed to get points.
“I agree that a player like Rickie Lambert this week will present a different challenge to Robin van Persie last week, but that is not to put Rickie Lambert down.
“The Premier League is a diverse one and you come across all sorts of challenges in it, in defence and in attack.
“And I’m a big admirer, I really am, of players like Lambert at Southampton and Grant Holt at Norwich City for example, who have played in the lower leagues and fully earned their right to be playing in the Premier League.
“They are here by right and they are showing they can compete and be effective in this division.
“But, as a team, that’s what we all need to do this Saturday – we need to go to Southampton, compete across the whole of the 90 minutes, and be effective.”