Sunderland’s astonishing rise even surprising Martin O’Neill

Craig Gardner.
Craig Gardner.
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SUNDERLAND’S stunning points haul under Martin O’Neill has even taken aback the Black Cats boss.

Victory at Stoke City on Saturday took Sunderland’s tally under O’Neill to 22 points from 10 games after the Wearsiders had registered just 11 from the previous 13 top-flight outings.

From a position where Sunderland were lying precariously above the drop zone when O’Neill took over, the Black Cats are now being mooted as potential late contenders for a European spot.

O’Neill said: “We have done splendidly to get the points we have and if you’d asked me two months ago whether we could have this number of points on the board at this stage I would have been astonished.

“I really don’t know how far they can go.

“I didn’t know a lot about the squad when I came here, but it is nice to learn and there are still a couple of players – for instance Ji (Dong-won) who scored the goal against Man City – whose ability that I still need to find out about.”

A run of five victories in six games has understandably boosted Sunderland’s confidence levels, with O’Neill stressing that the two go hand-in hand.

And as he reflected on a near-perfect first two months in charge at the Stadium of Light, O’Neill couldn’t help but stress the importance of a winning start to his reign after Sunderland’s two late goals secured victory over Blackburn on his managerial bow back on December 11.

“Winning the first game was really important,” he added. “You can’t put it all down to that, but it brings confidence.

“Prior to that, the team had lost games and confidence – even with very good players – can be brittle and there is sometimes a lack of self-belief because of that.

“I’ve seen it before and I’ve managed when confidence is low, too.

“But what comes first, the confidence or winning games? The answer is winning games because that’s what breeds confidence.”

Sunderland’s determination to continue their winning streak saw them conquer both Stoke and the weather at the Britannia Stadium, with both sides struggling to string together any coherent approach play.

O’Neill said: “The conditions in the last 20 minutes were certainly borderline, in terms of keeping the game going, but I never for one minute thought the referee would stop it.

“This would have been a big test for us, even without taking the snow into consideration.

“I’m really pleased we have won and they are three more important points for us.”