Testing times for Martin O’Neill

Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill.
Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill.
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MARTIN O’Neill admits he is currently managing his squad as best he can amid a flurry of festive games.

But he says he is still looking to impose his own standards and style on Sunderland despite the games coming thick and fast.

“It’s difficult,” he told the Echo. “It’s a really testing time for us in terms of the number of games we’re playing and from that viewpoint it’s not ideal that a new management team has just come in.

“We are stuck in a run of games at the moment which makes it a little difficult for us to be introducing the rules and routines that you need to.

“It’s unfortunate but we can’t choose the timing. That is just the way it is and we have to get on with it.”

O’Neill changed things around for his first game in charge, taking the squad away to stay in a Durham hotel the night before Sunderland’s home game against Blackburn Rovers at the Stadium of Light.

And he admits there was the prospect of keeping the players down in London after Sunday’s game against Spurs at White Hart Lane in order to have time together to prepare for tomorrow night’s match in the capital, against QPR at Loftus Road.

He said: “The hotel before Blackburn was quite an easy decision because a couple of the players have young families and this was just an opportunity to get their minds fully focused on the game.

“But I will play it by ear rather than follow the one approach constantly. Who is to say what is right? I habitually take teams away to stay in hotels, home and away.

“But I’ll see. I just felt that three days was just a tad too long away at this time. If we are winning games and the players aren’t staying overnight, well, that’s fine by me – the winning of games is the most important thing.

“The important thing is making the right decisions for the players themselves.”

O’Neill has been busy in his first fortnight in charge – recalling troubled defender Titus Bramble to the side, bringing Matt Kilgallon out of exile and handling difficult situations involving Nicklas Bendtner and Lee Cattermole.

He’s also given a debut to Jamie McClean and pushed the cause of Connor Wickham but he admits he has barely scratched the surface yet and is in no rush to judge.

“I think you feel you get a handle on them fairly quickly,” he mused. “But then you can be surprised by them, pleasantly surprised in the weeks ahead or even disappointed sometimes.

“They might feel the same, likewise, with the manager, so there you go. These things take time and for the moment it’s just a case of handling all these games as best as we possibly can, until we get into the New Year.”