Sunderland’s O’Neill: Pressure’s on for ‘tough’ run-in

Sunderland's manager Martin O'Neill.

Sunderland's manager Martin O'Neill.

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AS daunting lists go, it doesn’t get much more daunting for Sunderland as the fight to escape the drop heats up.

Next up, following the international break, are Premier League leaders Manchester United, closing in on an early title confirmation.

After that, the Black Cats are away to Chelsea, eager to clinch a return to the Champions League, then it’s fierce derby rivals Newcastle on Tyneside turf, before the Wearsiders meet perennial bogey team Everton.

Quite a quartet of opponents lying in wait for Sunderland, for anyone, to face in their forthcoming fixtures.

“Why stop at four, though?” queried Sunderland manager Martin O’Neill when the sides were read out to him after yesterday’s failure to beat fellow strugglers Norwich City’s 10 men.

Aston Villa, Stoke, Southampton and Spurs are the other four sides Sunderland must face before this irksome season ends. And O’Neill expects those last four games to be just as challenging as the first four.

“We have tough matches ahead, but they’re all tough,” he shrugged.

“I wouldn’t stop at those first four games, because the other ones are tough too.

“We’re disappointed not to get more out of the Norwich game, understandably so, but we still have games still to play, games we can still get points from.

“We had a situation just before Christmas time when we were in a similar challenging position and we won back-to-back games to help alleviate that. We have to do that again now, at some stage.”

O’Neill will appreciate how difficult those next four games are going to be but he refuses to beat himself up about it, even though Wigan’s win over Newcastle yesterday means that Sunderland are just four points above the drop zone, having played a game more than Roberto Martinez’s FA Cup semi-finalist Latics.

“Look, you have to play every team twice in a season and you know that from the moment you start it,” said O’Neill.

“We’re in a division where all the games are difficult.

“But it’s also a division where the results can’t be predicted – that’s why I wasn’t so surprised when QPR beat us the other week, or when we beat Man City.

“People will look at the fixtures and assume they’ll work out a certain way, but it never happens that they do in the end. We just have to keep on going and look to keep turning things around.”