MARTIN O’Neill was encouraged by an improved pre-season performance from Sunderland despite seeing their lead wiped out at the death.
Derby substitute Nathan Tyson’s 89th minute header denied Sunderland a second pre-season victory at Pride Park last night after James McClean’s strike looked to have earned the Black Cats a win.
O’Neill was more concerned by an improved display from his side after Sunderland had lost their previous two friendly encounters against Hartlepool United and Helsingborgs.
And despite stressing his hopes for boosting Sunderland’s attacking ranks in the transfer market, O’Neill acknowledged it was a relief to see the Wearsiders find the net after blanks against Pools and in Sweden.
O’Neill said: “The goal’s been a long time coming. It seems a long time since Korea.
“But we know we need to make big improvements and we’re trying to do that.
“It’s very important to strengthen the squad if we can and freshen it. I’m not too disappointed with the result really.
“I thought the performance was an improvement which was good. Again it’s just players, whose ability I know, getting into the right frame of mind and getting physically ready for the big game on Saturday week.
“Last night was another step towards that.”
One of the central positives for O’Neill was another outing for Euro 2012 trio McClean, Seb Larsson and John O’Shea, while Ahmed Elmohamady made his first appearance of pre-season.
“For McClean and Larsson, also John O’Shea and Elmohamady, it’s really important for them to get as much time on the field as possible now,” he added.
“Their build-up to the season has been shortened because of the holiday they’ve obviously deserved.”