MARTIN O’Neill hailed his side’s desire at the weekend, even if the final result against Arsenal left him feeling flat, writes GRAEME ANDERSON.
And he insisted performances like the one against the Gunners – where Sunderland flung everything at the visitors in the closing stages but could not find an equaliser – will keep big crowds like Saturday’s coming back to the Stadium of Light.
More than 46,000 watched Sunderland lose 1-0 but battle all the way to the final whistle and O’Neill observed: “That type of performance is what we should be all about.
“In our last three home games, we’ve been brilliant against West Ham and Arsenal and a bit of a mish-mash against Swansea.
“But what we want is a performance up near that mark we’ve shown in two of those three games.
“In terms of intensity, it is very difficult to keep that up for a full 90 minutes, but we did well and that’s why the crowd stayed with us to the end.
“Obviously, it was Arsenal and there was a great crowd in, but they will stay with you, keep coming along, if that’s the type of intensity and effort you want to put in. We looked dangerous and it wasn’t just a charge in the last three or four minutes. I thought we had built up momentum even before the sending-off.
“I thought we were really trying to get a grip in the game.
“Arsenal were still dangerous and there was always the possibility that they might pinch one on the counter-attack.
“But we were going for it, the crowd like that and I thought we were really unlucky on the day.
“The players were really disappointed in the dressing room afterwards because we played against a really, really good team and deserved to get something out of it, in my opinion.”
The game was dominated by fine goalkeeping and wayward finishing and O’Neill, in particular, lamented leading scorer Steven Fletcher’s failure to put away a fine opportunity after being played in by Stephane Sessegnon in the second half.
“People aren’t used to seeing Steven Fletcher miss chances,” smiled O’Neill.
“I was chastising Alfred N’Diaye for putting one wide of the post after the Reading defeat, but I didn’t expect my expert centre-forward to do exactly the same against Arsenal.
“I think Alfred was pointing that out to me after the match! At least I think that was what he was saying!
“As for the keepers, Simon’s performance in the first half was brilliant, but I must admit their keeper was also exceptional in the second half.
“Overall, there were chances galore in the game, but I think that’s what helped make it such a good game.”