MARTIN O’Neill blamed fatigue for Sunderland’s failure to boss their game against Swansea at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.
The Wearsiders were under the cosh for long spells as the visitors – who had almost two-thirds of possession – fully lived up their reputation for free-flowing, passing football.
But it has been an emotional, as well as physical, roller-coaster since the Northern Irishman took over the managerial reins in December.
And O’Neill thought his players perhaps felt the strain of expectation against a side which came to the North East on a high.
“It was a difficult afternoon for us,” he reflected.
“Swansea are a very fine footballing side that came here with confidence.
“They were on a high after Arsenal and it didn’t matter who they were playing, they were going to play well.
“So it was a tough afternoon.
“I think that maybe everything caught up with us on the day.
“Maybe the number of games we’ve played, and the intensity we’ve had to play them at, finally had their effect.”
The Black Cats’ boss was fulsome in his praise of Swansea, but also wanted to remind people that Sunderland had actually emerged as winners.
“I have enormous regard for Swansea,” he said.
“It’s great they want to play that way.
“Their performance against Arsenal was terrific and they have enough points on the board now that they need not be concerned too much about how they look about getting the rest.
“But I’m delighted with the team’s resolve because, for all Swansea’s possession, they didn’t have too many chances on goal.
“Swansea played very well and it’s an interesting stat that we actually had more possession against Chelsea – away at Stamford Bridge – than we had against Swansea at home.
“But I don’t want to sound as though we’ve lost 5-0!
“We were good at the back again and got to grips with it in the middle. On top of that, we scored two great goals.
“We’ve won the game and I’m delighted with that because to win this particular game was really big.”