MARTIN O’Neill now knows the challenge ahead of him as Sunderland’s new manager, writes Graeme Anderson.
But the 59-year-old, appointed on a three-year contract on Saturday, has vowed to do his “utmost to bring a bit of success to Sunderland”.
O’Neill was in the main stand at Molineux to see the Black Cats go down 2-1 to fellow strugglers Wolves yesterday – after going ahead through Kieran Richardson’s second-half strike.
The players have been given today off, but will meet up with O’Neill for the first time tomorrow when the former Leicester, Celtic and Aston Villa manager begins preparations for his first match in charge – Sunday’s televised showdown with third-bottom Blackburn Rovers.
O’Neill, out of the game since leaving Villa early in the 2010/11 campaign, is excited to be back in management, but he refused to make any outlandish promises.
“It’s a nice feeling to be back in football and obviously I’m very excited about joining Sunderland,” he said.
“It’s a big moment and I’m hoping it works out well.
“Naturally I want to do well for the fans, the team and myself. If we can combine all this and start winning football matches it would be terrific.
“All I can say, without promising the earth, moon and stars is I will do my utmost to bring a bit of success to Sunderland.”
O’Neill, who also has his first Press conference as Sunderland boss tomorrow, will be eager for a winning start against Blackburn
It is not inconceivable that a defeat would send Sunderland to the bottom of the Premier League.
Bolton and Wigan are both just two points behind the Wearsiders ahead of games against Aston Villa and West Brom respectively. Blackburn, 18th and a point behind Sunderland, would leapfrog the Black Cats with a victory at the Stadium of Light.
“Every single game is important – the Barclays Premier League has become the Holy Grail of football,” added O’Neill.
“You want to get yourself established. We had a great season last season, finishing 10th, and a wee bit of a disappointing start this time, but we hope that with a little bit of luck we can turn things around.
“I would like it to be a really successful period and I’m going to try my best to achieve that. That’s what I’ve come for – that’s what I want to do.”
O’Neill grew up a Sunderland fan in Northern Ireland due to his admiration for Cork-born great Charlie Hurley, the centre-back star of the Rokermen in the late 1950s and 1960s.
“You were either Celtic or Rangers in terms of a religious divide, but most of the boys took an English team too,” O’Neill said.
“Much to the laughing of one or two who took Manchester United and teams like that, I took Sunderland, with Charlie Hurley (being there).
“I never regretted it. I had a number of fights in the quad with other schoolboys about my choice, but outside that, not a problem.”
Sunderland chairman Ellis Short is convinced he got the “perfect” man when he appointed O’Neill as the club’s new manager.
The American is targeting regular top-10 finishes under the Northern Irishman and said following Saturday’s appointment: “Martin has as good a managerial pedigree as you could wish to find and has proven over the years to be a very astute, top-level manager.
“During his time at Aston Villa, he established the club firmly in the top 10 of the Barclays Premier League year-on-year, and this is something we are striving to achieve at Sunderland.
“Having spoken with Martin over the last two days, I know he is brimming with enthusiasm and anticipation about the challenge of taking Sunderland forward, and I believe he is the perfect choice to deliver the success we all desire.”