Sunderland’s O’Neill well aware of six-pointer’s importance

Martin O'Neill shows his frustration today

Martin O'Neill shows his frustration today

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MARTIN O’Neill has always been a realist, so no-one needed to tell him, after the 3-1 defeat to Chelsea on Saturday, of the importance of tomorrow’s night’s game against Reading, writes GRAEME ANDERSON.

It’s a relegation six-pointer at the Stadium of Light – even at this stage of the season.

The Royals are one of only two teams below Sunderland in the relegation zone they now share, but even the Championship champions’ miserable run this term is dwarfed by the Black Cats’ ignominious record of two wins in 23 league games.

And Sunderland go into the match knowing they need to up their record against the struggling teams around them if they are to pull clear of the relegation zone.

O’Neill (pictured) is refusing to push the panic button after watching his team play very well in long sections of their last two games – the defeats to Chelsea and Norwich.

And his argument is that if Sunderland win tomorrow when they finally play their game in hand on other sides in the league, the table will not look quite so perilous.

“Tuesday against Reading is a big game,” he acknowledged.

“It was always going to be that.

“If we win the game, we actually lift ourselves to 15th in the table, which is not so bad. But that is not the issue – it’s all about points”

O’Neill’s immediate worry when he arrived as Sunderland manager this time last year was that the team had fewer points than game.

But he faces exactly the same concern now and even if Sunderland do win tomorrow, that will only give them 16 points from 16 games.

He remains ultra-confident, though, and was withering in response to a Match of the Day question which asked him whether he was undergoing self-doubts.

Later, he explained: “We were in the bottom three this time last year and got a win against Blackburn which was great for us – winning gives you a psychological boost.

“It would be great to win the game on Tuesday against Reading and win it well.

“But nothing is more important than winning itself because that’s all we need – one or two wins to change things around.”