MARTIN O’Neill says he is in it for the long haul at Sunderland ... and the club’s current problems are nothing that he hadn’t expected.
The Black Cats’ boss made an inspired start to his time in charge after taking over the Wearsiders a year ago next month.
Winning his first game, against Blackburn at the Stadium of Light, he rapidly moved the club out of the bottom three and up the table alongside an FA Cup run which took Sunderland to the quarter-finals.
But the team fell away badly after that and ended the season on the crest of a slump.
It had been hoped after a summer in which prolific striker Steven Fletcher and England winger Adam Johnson were recuited to the ranks that Sunderland would revive and go charging after their goal of a top 10 place.
But after an indifferent start, with the fans starved of goals and goal-scoring chances, Sunderland’s woes deepened last week when Middlesbrough knocked them out of the Capital One Cup and struggling Aston Villa took a victory from the Stadium of Light.
The results have left fans in the doldrums or worse, but O’Neill (left) says that he is not shocked by the poor results and not worried about the club’s prospects in the long term.
“If you’re asking me did I think the job was done when we had that great first four months at the club? No, I did not,” he said.
“Did I think there would be challenging runs like the one we’ve been on lately? Absolutely, yes I did.
“It’s no shock or surprise to me. These things happen in football.
“It’s definitely a disappointment but you know these things can happen and it’s all about coming through them and hopefully gaining something out of them.”
O’Neill signed a three-year deal at Sunderland when he took over from Steve Bruce in the first week of December last year and he is convinced that by the time those three years are up, there will have been genuine progress at the club.
“One thing I have to make clear is that this club is my responsibility,” he said.
“The first day I got here we’d dropped into the bottom three before the Blackburn game but I accepted that this was my responsibility.
“It just takes a bit of time – you can’t do it overnight.
“But by hook or by crook I’m determined to make this club one that supporters can be proud of. I am determined to do that.”
Asked if this has been his most challenging time in management at the club he shrugged: “No, not at all.
“Blackburn was the game I was most nervous in. This is just an ongoing situation at the moment.
“I’m always concerned about football matches but this sort of run is the sort of thing that comes along from time to time and you just deal with.
“Before Blackburn was different altogether. We had dropped into the bottom three a week beforehand with less than a point per game and that Blackburn game was absolutely massive.
“Win it and we were in with a chance; lose it and we faced real problems, so no our situation now is nowhere near as difficult as it was then.”