MARTIN O’Neill is intent on re-creating the atmosphere from Sunderland’s FA Cup quarter-final on a regular basis.
The Stadium of Light will be near to capacity for Sunday’s crunch title clash with Manchester United, as Sunderland round off their campaign by attempting to ruin the silverware challenge of Sir Alex Ferguson’s men.
It is expected to be the highest attendance yet of O’Neill’s Sunderland reign, with the two previous top crowds both coming against Everton – Boxing Day’s Premier League clash and March’s FA Cup sixth round replay defeat.
Although O’Neill acknowledges that cup exit was the low point of his six months in charge, the former Aston Villa boss wants the same fervour on the terraces to become a regular feature again.
“Of course, there’s been disappointment in some of the games we didn’t win,” said O’Neill.
“My biggest disappointment really would probably be the cup game against Everton in the replay.
“We could have played much better. We could still have lost the game, but we didn’t play well at all in the match.
“But the atmosphere that evening when the crowd were really wanting and almost willing you to do well in the game, is the one we want at the football club more often.”
Sunderland head into Sunday’s game without a win in their last seven Premier League encounters, with the Black Cats requiring a victory to stand any hope of fulfilling their pre-season goal of a second successive top half finish.
But O’Neill will not be too harsh on his troops, even if they finish as low as 14th this weekend, after inheriting a side engulfed in the scrap at the bottom of the table.
“The last three odd months I’ve been absolutely delighted with the team and the effort they’ve put in, to get clear of relegation and to be in a decent position with so many games left,” he added.
“I didn’t foresee that when I first came in. Far from it, I thought it would be a long slog for us.”
Sunderland will still be without the injured Wes Brown, Kieran Richardson and Seb Larsson on Sunday.
But Nicklas Bendtner could return to the starting line-up after being restricted to a substitute’s role at Fulham last weekend after he sustained a foot injury in training.