A SLUGGISH start to the game cost Sunderland dearly at Old Trafford reckoned Martin O’Neill, writes GRAEME ANDERSON.
The Black Cats never really got going on Saturday as Manchester United created dangerous chances almost at will in the early stages.
And slack Sunderland defending at key points allowed United to capitalise on a couple of them and race into a two-goal lead before the midway point of the first half.
“United didn’t need a helping hand, but we gave it to them anyway,” O’Neill observed wryly. “The goals we conceded were not too clever from our point of view.
“It’s difficult to come to Manchester United at any time, but particularly now when they are playing so well.
“But what you have to do is look to show determination and spirit and I thought we did that second-half.
“We got a goal back and if we could have taken a chance or two more we might have made the last 10 or 15 minutes more interesting.”
As he reviews the game this week though, and ponders his approach for the vital trip to Southampton this weekend, O’Neill will no doubt look to underline the importance of making good starts to games, as well as trying to encourage his players’ self-belief.
He said: “It’s inevitable that defeats are likely to knock your confidence which is so essential to prosper in this division.
“We scored an early goal against Reading last week and you could see the confidence flow back into the players and see that confidence being reinforced when we scored a second goal.
“So to concede two early goals against United – made it much easier for them and potentially much more difficult for us.”
Now the manager will look to add resolve to his side as it heads into a pressure game against the Saints before challenging fixtures against Manchester City, Spurs and Liverpool.
“We have a tough set of fixtures coming up and there’s no getting away from that, but you have to play everyone sometime,” he shrugged.
“It’s up to us to rise to the challenge of the Christmas programme and we’ll be doing everything we can to make sure we do.”