THE anguished expressions on Martin O’Neill’s face in the dying minutes of Saturday’s game – as chances against Chelsea went begging – said everything about the Sunderland manager’s passion for the project he took up last month.
He goes into every game believing he can advance Sunderland’s points total and, on the quiet, he felt before this game that his team could well get a draw at Stamford Bridge – maybe a win.
And the awareness, after Saturday’s narrow 1-0 defeat, that his instincts were right; that the Black Cats could easily have had a point or three, weighed heavily on him.
One or two clinical finishes would have been enough and O’Neill reflected: “It was disappointing and frustrating we didn’t get something out of the game.
“We didn’t have much luck.
“Even in the first half, when Chelsea had more of the ball, I thought we had the better opportunities; second-half, without doubt, we did.
“We missed about four or five great chances to score and that’s too many.”
The ones at the death – Craig Gardner’s and Nicklas Bendtner’s – exercised him most.
“Seriously, I’ve seen Craig so often in that position and the minute it was played across to him, I expected him to stick the ball in the back of the net,” he said in exasperation.
“I thought he would score.
“And the Nicklas Bendtner effort, if he gets it on target, I think it goes in.
“I do think, though, that those players are capable of getting us goals, it’s just frustrating they couldn’t take any of their chances in this game.”
O’Neill also felt his side should have had a penalty when Bendtner was shoved in the back in the second half, seconds after Fernando Torres had gone down in the opposite box.
“We had a definite penalty, but it wasn’t given,” he said.
“I’ve been told the first one, at our end, was not a penalty, and then very quickly we come down the field and, well who is to say, but ours is a definite penalty.”
The angst was tangible, but the manager insists his second defeat in eight games won’t take the wind out of Sunderland’s sails – with Swansea City, impressive 3-2 winners against Arsenal yesterday – due at the Stadium of Light this Saturday.
“Confidence won’t be affected,” he said.
“Maybe it’s frustration, that we didn’t get something out of a game which we could have, which is getting us down.
“Maybe, over the next couple of days, I’ll feel less frustrated, because we were up against a team which, for a long time now, has been competing to win the biggest trophies in the game.
“But there’s no doubt in my mind that we’ve come to Stamford Bridge, played well against Chelsea, and deserved to be leaving with something.”