AS far as birthday weekends go, Martin O’Neill will have had better.
The Sunderland manager turned 61 on Friday, still looking remarkably youthful for his age.
But his team, and the vagaries of the game, in recent weeks seem determined to combine to add a few more grey hairs to his head.
Sunderland are doing themselves no favours in this recent run of two points from 15 and, against Fulham on Saturday, the shortcomings which have undermined otherwise good work were to the fore.
A classic example of that would be Fulham’s second goal, finished off by Sascha Riether – a purposeful counter-attack from a Sunderland corner after the Black Cats had already handed their opponents the advantage by conceding a soft penalty.
O’Neill took the blame for the breakaway goal on his own shoulders.
“We’re disappointed with Fulham breaking on us from their own penalty area and getting a goal from one of our corners,” he said.
“It was very poor organisation from us and that’s down to me.
“I was disappointed.
“The last thing you should be doing when the ball is dead and it is going into their penalty area, you should not be some seconds later pulling the ball out of your own net.”
It was an odd set-up for the dead ball – 6ft 2in Alfred N’Diaye running towards Adam Johnson for a short corner while diminutive Stephane Sessegnon was hidden in the box.
But, beyond that, the goal exposed the lack of pace of centre-halves John O’Shea and Titus Bramble in recovering their ground from the opposition penalty box.
O’Neill, though, was not tempted to be overly hard on a team which came back from two goals down to earn a point and arguably deserved victory as they piled on the pressure in the closing stages.
“I felt we did enough to deserve to win it,” he said. “And I’m very pleased at the way we got ourselves back into the game.
“I’m disappointed with a lot of things, but at least we got something out of it.”
Key to that success was the form of Sessegnon, who grabbed his second goal in as many games after Craig Gardner had pulled one back from the penalty spot.
“He’s full of confidence and he’s very important to us,” agreed the Black Cats’ boss.
“Stephane is getting back to his best and is playing brilliantly at the moment, in terms of going past players and being full of confidence.
“He’s looking very dangerous and I feel that the goals have done him good as well.
“He seems happy enough to go out on the flanks when Danny Graham is in the side, but was also happy to go back into the attack when Danny came off.”