Sunderland boss O’Neill content with Stoke draw

Martin O'Neill
Martin O'Neill
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MARTIN O’Neill settled for an away point on Saturday, fully aware that a draw at Stoke is never a bad thing.

Unlike the Newcastle derby at the Stadium of Light, where the emphasis was on Sunderland to attack; at Stoke, the onus was on the Black Cats to defend, and they did that exceptionally well.

“It was a difficult game played in difficult conditions, with a swirling wind making it tough, but a point away from home is not too bad,” the Sunderland manager said.

“We have drawn a lot of games this season – this was another one – and it’s just frustrating we’ve been unable to turn one or two of those draws into victories.

“But it has been a tough start to the season and we have played two more games away than we have at home, so we have to wait and see what develops.

“So far this season, my only real gripe is about the West Ham result, where I thought we should have held on for all three points.”

While the manager was satisfied with a draw against imposing opposition at the weekend, he remains perturbed by the struggle to find an attacking threat in front of goal.

“Are we an evolving side?” he pondered in response to a question. “Evolving is a good word for us.

“It has been tough for us and we’ve introduced a few new players into the side: Adam Johnson and Steven Fletcher.

“Fletcher has had a flying start, Johnson has had injury problems – but I have no doubt that, in time, Adam will be terrific.

“We are working at it.

“And, interestingly, last week, I know Newcastle were down to 10 men in a derby game – I accept that point – but I think we got the equaliser we got through sheer pressure.

“I’ve been asked about getting goalscorers other than Steven Fletcher from the side and it is an issue for us.

“We need to try and alleviate that for him – at the moment he is our goalscorer.

“I think, in the course of time, we’ll change that, but then it seems like I’ve been saying that for weeks!”

For the moment, O’Neill is pleased to have negotiated a tricky away fixture with some success – although for that he had to thank a brave and stubborn defence and, in particular, the resoluteness of Simon Mignolet.

“My goalkeeper made an excellent save and, in a game of very few chances, it was an important one,” O’Neill acknowledged.

“But Simon has been fantastic ever since he came back into the side from injury on New Year’s Day.”

Sunderland had shouts for a penalty late in the second half when Fletcher’s shot was blocked by Robert Huth’s arm, but O’Neill did not want to make a song and dance about it.

“I’ve seen replays quickly and briefly and, on first look, I thought if a penalty had been given against us in a similar situation I would have been none too pleased,” he shrugged.

“The referee said he thought their defender was too close – I’m not too sure that was the case.

“I think he tried to keep his arm down and it was a misfortune that it was struck.

“But the galling thing is if he hadn’t blocked it, it would have been a goal.”