Martin O’Neill rues Sunderland’s shocking start

Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill looks dejected.
Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill looks dejected.
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WHEN Martin O’Neill was appointed Sunderland manager a year ago today, he said his first task would be to try to get the team to a position where they had as many points as they had played games, writes GRAEME ANDERSON.

One year on and he is facing exactly the same challenge.

Sunderland’s defeat to Norwich City yesterday leaves the Wearsiders with 14 games played and just 13 points accumulated.

Furthermore – with matches against Chelsea, Manchester City and Spurs ahead before the end of the year – the road forward is neither obvious nor easy.

Crisis? When is there not a crisis?

O’Neill said before yesterday’s game that his year in charge at Sunderland had been “a delightful struggle”.

But there was no delight for him in a shocker of a first half at Carrow Road; only struggle.

He was at something of a loss to explain why his team should collectively be so bad in that opening 45 minutes.

But he had no doubt that it was that, which ultimately cost Sunderland.

“The first half let us down,” he said.

“We were far too tentative.

“We were pretty poor – second to the ball too often and then gave it away far too easily when we had it.

“We had to wait until we were two goals before we started playing.

“Norwich were hanging on by the end, but they had two goals to hang on to as a result of that first half.

“It was our own fault – we had to get to grips with the game in the first half; we had to close them down.

“It is an uphill struggle in the Premier League and it is hard to give one goal away, never mind two.”

Now the manager begins his second year in charge of Sunderland facing the challenge of Chelsea at the Stadium of Light.

The Blues have their own problems under ex-Red Rafa Benitez.

But they will still be strong favourites when they come to the Stadium of Light this Saturday.

Chelsea have hit a run of poor form but that cannot hold a candle to Sunderland’s record of just two league wins in 22 games stretching all the way back to March.