Sunderland players ignored O’Neill speculation

Carlos Cuellar
Carlos Cuellar
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CARLOS Cuellar insists Sunderland’s dressing room have paid no attention to media speculation over Martin O’Neill’s position.

Sunderland’s slide into the Premier League’s relegation zone last weekend perhaps inevitably sparked heightened scrutiny over O’Neill’s role as Black Cats boss, despite the former Aston Villa manager only just marking a year in the Stadium of Light hotseat.

But Tuesday night’s crucial victory over Reading, which propelled Sunderland up to 15th spot, has dampened the talk, even though the vast majority of supporters and, more importantly, owner Ellis Short have retained their faith in O’Neill.

Defender Cuellar told the Echo: “To be honest, the talk of the manager had no influence on the dressing room.

“All the time, from the manager through to the chairman, they’ve showed their confidence in the team.

“No-one’s really said anything about it.”

Although Sunderland moved out of the drop zone after securing only a second home win of the campaign, Cuellar knows the bottom reaches of the league are compact, with only two points separating five teams.

Points rather than places remain Sunderland’s principal concern at this stage of the season, even if Cuellar admits victory against second-bottom Reading was crucial to restore some confidence.

The Spaniard said: “We knew even when we went into the relegation zone, that the league is like that at the moment. We knew that if we won one game, we’d be out of it.

“But then, on the other hand, if you lose a game, you might fall back into it.

“I think it’s going to be like that for a few weeks.

“We don’t need to get upset about where we are in the table. We just have to make sure we keep our confidence and keep getting points.

“It was a very important win on Tuesday. To play one game like that, that we can control and attack and give people confidence, will be fantastic for us.

“We deserved that because even in the Chelsea game when we lost last weekend, the performance was good. We lost because of mistakes.”

Sunderland now face their third game in a week, with the Black Cats heading to table-topping Manchester United on Saturday.

If those exertions weren’t draining enough, Sunderland will almost certainly be without the services of right-back Phil Bardsley, while winger Adam Johnson and left-back Danny Rose are fighting to be fit after all three suffered injuries against Reading.

“It’s really tough when you are playing three games in a week, particularly when you are playing tough teams like Chelsea because you have to work hard,” added Cuellar.

“Fingers crossed, the injuries won’t be too bad and we can get them fit for Saturday.”