“SO far, so good,” was John O’Shea’s verdict on Sunderland’s season going into today’s game against Premier League champions Manchester City.
And the Republic of Ireland international reckons that regardless of today’s result at the Etihad Stadium, the Black Cats can be quietly satisfied with their start to the season.
Much of the focus so far in the Black Cats’ campaign has been on Steven Fletcher’s league goals and the lack of them from any other player but O’Shea prefers to quietly make the case for the defence with Sunderland keeping four clean sheets in their first seven games.
In the Premier League, they are conceding less than a goal a game and O’Shea said: “I think defensively we’ve been strong despite not having had a settled back four so far.
“I think that’s all credit to the players involved – you’ve had Titus Bramble and Danny Rose for example, slotting in without disrupting things.
“That’s what the manager wanted this season – to improve the squad in defence as well as attack and the signings he has brought in have done that.
“It means when you do pick up injuries, you can bring in replacements without too much of a problem.”
It’s not just the back-four that have distinguished themselves though, with Simon Mignolet particularly catching the eye.
“The two saves he made against Wigan last weekend – and the one from Kevin Nolan at West Ham – they were special,” O’Shea said.
“But he has been doing that ever since he came to the club, and he is keeping a quality keeper out of the side in Keiren Westwood too.
“The manager is very lucky to have the two keepers he has.
“I think, defensively, the team as a whole has been working very hard on getting back into position and recovering the ball and that’s important, especially in games where you come under pressure.
Pressure comes with the territory when a team makes a trip to the Etihad these days and O’Shea accepts playing the blue half of Manchester is very different now to when he first started at Manchester United.
When O’Shea made his Man United debut in 1999, City had only just come back up from the third tier of English football but now, propelled by cash from Arab billionaires, City are at the top of the tree and the two halfs of Manchester are now genuine footballing rivals again.
O’Shea smiled: “It is a little bit different from when I first started out!
“City are the champions, as well, so it is always a buzz when you are playing against the team that has won the league and you know you are testing yourself against the best.
“Man United will be focusing on themselves this weekend although we will be wishing them well, because they are at Newcastle.
“You hope for a few favours from each other and pats on the back.
“Certainly some of my ex-teammates were very happy last season with what went on with Sunderland against Man City but it’s a tough, tough game. Despite that though, these kind of games is what it is all about.”
Even if Sunderland have been hammered at City this afternoon by the time you read the Football Echo, O’Shea says it won’t be a time to panic.
Despite their unbeaten, solid start to the season, Sunderland players haven’t yet hit top gear and the ex-Man United man only sees the current Sunderland side improving.
He said: “It’s all about getting fitter and sharper and in terms of fitness, even Fletch has been getting better with every game.
“All the players, the attacking players especially, are getting fitter and stronger and the more minutes they get under their belt, the better they will be.
“From Adam Johnson’s point of view, it has been a bit upsetting for him that he had a little niggle and it has taken some time for him to get over it.
“Thankfully he has now and he showed some glimpses last weekend against Wigan of the quality he has.
“Once he gets fully fit, he will be a major asset for us and I’m sure he was delighted to be on his way back for the Man City game.”