MARTIN O’NEILL has challenged Sunderland to follow the example of Stoke and Norwich in easing their relegation worries, writes Chris Young.
Sunderland may have scrambled out of the bottom three after Tuesday night’s victory over Reading, but the Black Cats remain just one point above the drop zone prior to tomorrow’s trip to league leaders Manchester United.
But O’Neill says the Potters and Canaries show it is possible to create some breathing space with the relegation places after both found themselves struggling a couple of months ago.
Stoke were 15th – the position Sunderland occupy now – in early November, before winning four of their last six games to move into the top half. Meanwhile, Norwich, second bottom at the beginning of October, are nine games unbeaten in the Premier League, a run which has lifted them seven points clear of the danger zone.
O’Neill said: “I just look at the some of the sides that were down there with us. There are teams playing half-decent football now after scrapping for points that they might have thought beyond them at one stage.
“Stoke City and Norwich are both on good runs which breeds a bit of confidence, which is very important.
“Stoke have won a number of matches 1-0 and suddenly now they’re sitting in the top half of the table. It can turn so quickly.
“Stoke and Norwich have moved out of trouble and we need to take a leaf out of their book and go for it. We’ve got 20-odd games left to play and that’s an awful lot of points still to play for.
“There are a number of clubs around us in the table with only a point or two separating four or five of them.”
Sunderland themselves showed last season how a run of consistent results can banish relegation fears after the Wearsiders won seven of O’Neill’s first 10 games at the helm, following his December appointment.
The Black Cats face a tall order to enjoy such festive cheer this time around, with Sunderland facing the two Manchester clubs and Tottenham in their next four outings.
But O’Neill stresses that Sunderland managed to secure some unexpected victories last season, most notably when they beat Manchester City on New Year’s Day and were again successful at Wigan just 48 hours later.
“We found ourselves in this situation last season and we showed the spirit and determination to get out of it,” he added.
“We won a number of games when people perhaps didn’t think we would and suddenly we were out of trouble much more quickly than anyone anticipated.
“If you have done everything in your power – I’m talking about all of us as players and manager – then the results will turn and you will see some light at the end of the tunnel.”