Martin O’Neill points the way for Sunderland

Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill.
Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill.
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MARTIN O’Neill has set his Sunderland players a first benchmark target of averaging a point per game.

The team goes into tonight’s game against Queens Park Rangers knowing that victory would put the Black Cats on course to meet the new manager’s first goal.

Since taking over from Steve Bruce a fortnight ago, O’Neill has mentioned several times that the team has still to reach the Premier League’s accepted bare minimum of one point per game in a 38-game season.

He feels that the sooner Sunderland reach that level, the sooner they can begin to look up the table rather than down.

“At the moment we don’t even have one point per game played and that is a marker – it should be the first ambition for us,” he told the Echo, with Sunderland on 14 points from 16 matches.

“The first thing is to get level points with the number of games played, and then try to take things on from there if we can.

“Of course, you could do that and then drop back again.

“But let’s just say that after the next 10 games I’d like to be in a position where we are sitting there with at least as many points as games we have played.

“It’s something to look at.

“It’s not all-consuming – just a thought, that’s all.

“At the moment, and while there’s time and no-one’s getting into any kind of panic mode, we’d just like to gain a bit of breathing space.”

The festive programme sees Premier League clubs playing four games over the next couple of weeks, making this potentially a time of big changes for sides at both ends of the table.

After tonight’s game at QPR, the Black Cats face back-to-back home games against Everton on Boxing Day and Manchester City on New Year’s Day, before travelling to fellow strugglers Wigan on January 3.

And by that stage, Sunderland and O’Neill should have a pretty good idea about how their season is shaping up.

The Northern Irishman said: “The next four games come in a relatively short space of time, while the four league games after that are spread out over almost a month.

“So, in that respect, the fact that the fixtures are condensed into a short space of time, over the Christmas period, make it important to get some points on the board.

“There’ll be teams that will climb quite a bit and others that will fall because of the quite condensed nature of the league at the moment and we want to be among the teams that are climbing.”