Martin O’Neill demands a big finish

MORE TO COME ... says Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill.
MORE TO COME ... says Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill.
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MARTIN O’Neill has promised that Sunderland won’t be putting their feet up in the wake of preserving their Premier League status and exiting the cup.

In the space of just four days, the Black Cats saw the 40-point mark reached in the league and their FA Cup dream collapse when they fell to Everton at the Stadium of Light.

It has left some fans wondering what else there is to play for, but the manager insists no one will be getting out the travel brochures just yet.

O’Neill took enormous satisfaction from the victory over QPR last Saturday which saw his side reach the 40-point milestone. But the bitterly disappointing performance against Everton on Tuesday will have given him plenty of food for thought about his squad.

“Back in December, if you’d offered me 40 points at the end of the season – never mind with eight games to go – I would have been delighted,” he said.

“Back then, the chances are you might even have twisted my arm to accept 37 or 38, because when I took over, the situation we are in today looked a decent way off.

“We didn’t even have a point per game – we’d played 14 games and had 11 points – so even getting 38 points looked a bit of a challenge. But having reached 40 points last week, there’s absolutely no way we can afford to rest upon our laurels. We must push on.

“I am really pleased we have got the points, but we can’t start to think about an early summer holiday.”

There are new targets to go for. Sunderland will want to earn their second successive top 10 finish and look to better that tenth-place finish under Steve Bruce last season, as well as topping last season’s 47 points tally.

It’s a challenge for the players and the manager, though, especially with O’Neill now having to lift his squad after their disappointing cup display for back-to-back games against two of the top four.

First up this weekend is a formidable trip to title-chasing Manchester City – who have yet to drop a point at the Etihad Stadium this season – before fourth-placed Spurs visit the Stadium of Light a week on Saturday.

O’Neill acknowledged: “We’ve got some tough fixtures coming up. The next two league games are tough enough – at Manchester City this weekend and then at home to Tottenham the week after.

“We’ve had a good run in both the league and the cup but those two games could easily put everything back into perspective again.”