Sunderland’s Martin O’Neill has plenty to work on as season nears

CATS BOSS: Martin O'Neill (file pic)
CATS BOSS: Martin O'Neill (file pic)
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MARTIN O’Neill admits Sunderland’s pre-season performances continue to fall below par after the Black Cats slumped to a third defeat in four friendly outings.

Reigning Swedish champions Helsingborgs were always expected to hand Sunderland a stern test on Saturday after completing more than half of their domestic campaign and prevailing in the first leg of their Champions League qualifier in midweek.

But Helsingborgs were able to rest a handful of first-team regulars and still ran out 2-0 winners.

O’Neill didn’t try to mask Sunderland’s deficiencies, but hopes the Black Cats will be better prepared for the Premier League opener at Arsenal after the conclusion of this week’s final two friendlies against Championship pair Derby and Leicester.

The Sunderland boss told the Echo: “I want to see us getting closer to what we expect in the two games this week. We need to be better in every aspect really – more in terms of performance obviously and more in terms of physical output.

“By the end of this week, not withstanding the international games that are played next week, I hope the boys can start thinking about the Arsenal game.

“There’s loads of things we still need to work on – lots to consider, lots to ponder and the result is not the most important thing. But in terms of performance again, we’re striving for more.

“At this minute, I think we’re just a bit short on that.”

All three of Sunderland’s pre-season defeats have corresponded with them drawing a blank in front of goal – half-time substitute Connor Wickham the biggest culprit on Saturday after spurning a brace of good opportunities.

O’Neill returned to his desk at the Academy of Light this morning vowing to continue the hunt for striking reinforcements, with Wolves’ Steven Fletcher and Manchester City’s John Guidetti still on the wishlist.

But while Sunderland have made just one foray into the market this summer – Bosman arrival Carlos Cuellar – O’Neill remains confident the Black Cats can make the required additions.

“We have a few problems, not least scoring goals,” added O’Neill. “But don’t worry, we’ll try to resolve that in the coming weeks.

“It’s back to the grind on that again today.”