MARTIN O’Neill is calling on his players to produce a big finish this season.
And he wants no repeat of last year, when the campaign fizzled out after the crushing disappointment of their FA Cup exit to Everton..
March was the month when the manager’s stunning start to his time in charge of Sunderland tailed away last year.
Defeat to Everton towards the end of that month, when Sunderland failed to rise to the occasion in their FA Cup quarter-final replay at the Stadium of Light, began a steady slide towards the close season.
The Black Cats failed to win any of their last eight league games after coming unstuck against the Toffeemen, taking just five points from their final 24.
And O’Neill, already concerned about a recent run of form which has seen just two points taken from their last 15, wants Sunderland to finish their season with a flourish this time.
“There should be less excuse for us under-performing this season because we haven’t got that involvement in the cup to factor in,” he said.
“We had a good cup run last season and we got a lot out of it but it did maybe take its toll eventually in that once we were out of it, we seemed to lose momentum.
“I don’t necessarily know if it was to blame for all our ills and woes.
“But this season we have none of that and nothing really to blame.
“We should be able to be OK this season and we have to look to finish strongly.”
O’Neill has been bitterly disappointed not to get the rub of the green in these last few games – be it with chances being put away or with refereeing decisions not going the Black Cats way.
But he retains his belief that Sunderland aren’t too far away from getting the results they’re chasing.
“We do play at a high tempo and some might say that when you do that that things might not work out for you at either end of the pitch.
“They also might say that you struggle to sustain that tempo.
“But I don’t think that’s got anything to do with our recent defeats.
“I think we have been getting stronger in most of our games towards the end, it has just been a case of taking chances.
“I think that’s maybe the key to it for us, we’ve got to take the chances that fall our way.”