MARTIN O’Neill says he understands how unhappy fans are at Sunderland’s recent disappointing run of results.
But he says he will continue to manage in his own way as he looks to improve the squad and get better performances and results.
Up until a month ago, O’Neill had not experienced three league defeats in a row in his 14 months as Sunderland manager.
Now – ahead of Sunday’s crucial Premier League showdown with Norwich City at the Stadium of Light (1.30pm kick-off) – he is in the midst of a run of four defeats in the last five games; a sequence of just one win in the last eight with just five points taken from the last 24.
On top of that, performances during that run have been patchy with new arrival Kader Mangane yet to feature and fellow January signings Danny Graham and Alfred N’Diaye yet to convince.
The Premier League remains a learning curve for the 23-year-old Frenchman, while £5million arrival Graham could really do with a goal after three starts and two substitute appearances drew a blank.
But O’Neill hopes Sunderland fans will eventually see an upturn in performances and results and that things will come start coming together.
“Criticism is inevitable if you are in football management,” he told the Echo.
“What you try to do is work out the best system for the players you have at the football club.
“We said before that we have relied very heavily this season on Steven Fletcher scoring the goals, more so than we should have done.
“We needed some sort of experienced player in there alongside him.
“I thought Danny fitted the bill and I do believe that he will get goals when he gets fully match fit.
“He’ll prove a handful.
“That fitness is something that was missing from his game when he came to us because he didn’t play that much for Swansea.”
The manager does appreciate, though, that time is running out on the season.
And he says he never felt Sunderland were comfortable in the league – even after a run of three wins out of four in December seemed to have dispelled fears.
“We have to try to win some matches now, that’s what it’s all about,” the former Celtic and Aston Villa manager said.
“I’m not relaxed about things. I’m always concerned. You must concern yourself.
“If you are in the bottom half of the table you are always looking over your shoulder – I’m not the only manager thinking that.”
O’Neill still feels, however, that Sunderland could easily have had plenty of points more on the board had they had the rub of the green in some of the recent games in their bad run.
“There are a lot of games that you play during the course of the season where it is all about fine lines,” he reflected.
“Of course there are some games where you can dominate from start to finish and win two or three nil – chances are that that happens to the likes of Man United and Man City regularly.
“But against teams in the middle of the table especially it can be very close and just go either way and we’ve just been on the receiving end of a few of those that haven’t gone our way.
“Now we’ve got to go out there and edge some of these games in our favours because it’s all about getting points on the board – at this stage of the season especially – and that’s all we’re focused on.”