MARTIN O’Neill took heart from a defeat to Manchester United which was narrow, in goal terms at least, writes Graeme Anderson.
The visitors took the lead at the Stadium of Light in the 26th minute of yesterday’s match when Titus Bramble deflected Robin van Persie’s shot past Simon Mignolet.
And United were rarely troubled, even when Sunderland sought to put them under sustained pressure in the second half.
But O’Neill – whose men are now just a point clear of the drop zone going into the final seven games of the season – took real encouragement from the way his players upped their performance after the break and genuinely battled to break down the league leaders in the second half.
“I thought we were tentative in the first half, maybe a little bit nervous – it took us to half-time to realise that we were still very much in contention,” said the Irishman, following his side’s 1-0 defeat, making it eight games without a win.
“But, in the second half, we stormed into the game and really did ourselves some justice.
“We performed at an intense level after the break, which was pleasing, and my only wish is that we might have been that little bit better in the second half.
“Overall, I’m pleased with the performance and I think it bodes well.
“But there’s always a danger that you’re going to struggle for confidence and self-belief when you haven’t won a long time.”
Though few would argue United deserved to win the game over the course of the 90 minutes, there was an element of good fortune about the visitors’ match-winner which struck both Phil Bardsley and Titus Bramble on its way past the Sunderland goalkeeper.
“We were a little unlucky with the goal – a double deflection – which separates the teams,” noted O’Neill.
“But there’s a real determination in the dressing room and we are up to the challenge.”
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