MARTIN O’Neill accepted in the wake of the Black Cats’ defeat to QPR that a huge amount now rides on the next game, the visit of his former club, Norwich City, this Sunday.
Grim-faced after a fourth defeat in five – this time a 3-1 loss by the Premier League’s bottom club – his words dripped understatement when he acknowledged: “Norwich is a big game for us.”
Mentally scanning the names ahead of him on the fixture list – Chelsea away, Manchester United at home, Newcastle away – the opportunity presented at the Stadium of Light by a Norwich side which have won just of their last 12 league games was obvious.
But then, so was the one at the weekend presented by a QPR side which had failed to score at home in the league since Boxing Day.
“I think QPR were obviously buoyed by last week’s game against Southampton,” suggested O’Neill.
“It was a great win for them and I’m sure they’d probably targeted the game against us for another win.
“But it was a game we expected to get something out of too.
“The important goal was QPR’s second one – a great goal which came out of nothing – and we just couldn’t get back into it after that.
“There were some good things about us in the game – most notably taking the lead and playing some very good football to do so.
“The disappointment was that when we went 2-1 behind there was still enough time to do something about it but we didn’t put enough pressure on them to do that.
“Now we have to move on.
“We’ve got some exceptionally hard fixtures in front of us, but we have to just press ahead and get something out of them. And, in that context, the Norwich City game up next becomes a very big one for us.”
O’Neill will be boosted by the successful return of Danny Rose from a month-long lay-off with a hamstring problem.
The on-loan Spurs man came on as a second-half substitute at Loftus Road and now only needs match sharpness.
Sunderland are also expected to recall Connor Wickham after the expiration of the striker’s one-month loan spell at Sheffield Wednesday.