Martin O’Neill, the burden of expectation – and Sixer’s dark thoughts at Wolves

Eric Sweeney** avoids over-excitement in a cool look at what the new era of Martin O’Neill means for him and the club. And study the now famous image of a green-hatted Pete Sixsmith at Molineux before entering a jolly little competition (see below*) …

When Roy Keane departed from Sunderland, he left the club with much work to do.

The squad was bloated and we had good cause to wonder about our Premier League survival. Remarkably, Bruce has left us in similar circumstances: a perilous league position coupled with an uneasy uncertainty over the starting 11.

This presents Martin O’Neill with issues he urgently needs to tackle in order to get Sunderland up the table and into a more secure position.

The opening weekend addressed many questions I had.

* First, take Kieran Richardson: would MON consider him a left back or attacking midfielder? We got the answer I expected with him being placed on the wing.

* The second decision was on whether Bramble had a future under the new manager. I admit I was surprised to see him start in the heart of the Sunderland defence alongside Brown. Although I would like him to be replaced as soon as possible, his display against Blackburn was excellent.

With that uncertainty over our first 11, a number of players have staked claims for places. The energetic display from McClean was as exciting as it was effective; we will surely be seeing more of him in the coming weeks.

Another player we can expect to see more of is Ryan Noble who can’t stop scoring for the reserves. He must be close to making an impact for the seniors while the return of David Meyler from serious injury is great news and Campbell is also back in full training.

While I am excited to see what changes O’Neill makes in the coming weeks, I believe his legacy will be long term.

With the same players at his disposal as Bruce we perhaps can’t expect the results to be very different to what we have become accustomed.

But the training sessions have been “sharper and shorter”, according to Vaughan, and there is a sense of enthusiasm among the players and fans. Even so, we are in for a very difficult season because of the fixtures already played in which we have failed to pick up any points.

I wasn’t aware that O’Neill had any connection with the club but he has confirmed that he was a supporter when young, largely as result of his admiration for our legendary centre half, Charlie Hurley.

When MON left Aston Villa it was widely speculated that his resignation was over club finances. The proceeds of the sales of Barry and Milner, which generated substantial amounts, were not going to be reinvested in the club.

This would make it more surprising that he should now chose to manage a club that also seems to have been raising funds through player sales, though we are not aware that this will continue to be the policy under new management.

The O’Neill era has begun and I now can’t wait for each Saturday to come around. The club needed a boost, it was in freefall under Bruce and fans and the players needed a change.

Surprisingly, we got a manager everyone wanted. Usually, we take this time to debate the chairman’s managerial appointment with loads of different views coming from fans. It is strange but also understandable that little or no discussion of this kind took place before the appointment.

So we have a world class manager, experienced and successful. A fan of the club, loved by media and players and respected (although not befriended) by other managers.

My custom would be to crow to anyone prepared to listen that we are now ready to join the Premier League elite. But if being a Sunderland fan has taught me one thing, it is the folly of becoming overexcited about our future. I am still excited; surely it is all too perfect for it to work out as it has in the past.

One thing is for sure: if we can’t achieve our ambitions under O’Neill, we may need to adjust our expectations.

* The Sixer Competition: come up with a quote and have a chance of winning this Philosophy Football t-shirt (offered in an earlier competition at a time when technical hitches were disrupting traffic to Salut! Sunderland; there was only one entry) …

The image, which has already been mentioned by several people at this site and its Facebook page, is taken from footage of Wolves v Sunderland. Larsson had just missed the penalty, Wolves had instantly equalised and Pete (not to mention Paul Dobson, aka Sobs, by his side) was not in the best of spirits. Your task, as Lord Sugar might say: to come up with an appropriate quote from the great man. What was Sixer saying or thinking when the TV cameras caught him for the world to see? Monsieur Salut will judge which is the best. If no winner emerges, I shall come up with a deserving case from all the recent flow of comments to the site.


** This is the latest of Eric Sweeney’s occasional contribution
to Salut! Sunderland. Sweeney’s Cut is the name of his series of article. Please use the contact link at the top of the page if you wish to submit your own pieces.

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10 thoughts on “Martin O’Neill, the burden of expectation – and Sixer’s dark thoughts at Wolves”

  1. Sixer to Sobs “So you reckon that Larsson fella is a Swede eh? I was thinking more along the lines of Turnip myself”. (This is my polite effort. I can come up with more abusive efforts if so desired).

  2. I’ll be interested to see how MON handles the legal troubles of Catts and Bendtner.

    He’s given Titus a chance to prove himself (possibly– could be that he was the only senior defender available I suppose). It’s the measure of a man how he deals with this sort of situation. Will they be benched?

    Like everyone else, I’d love to see more of McClean. But I’d be surprised if he started starting right away. Perhaps he’ll be eased in gently.

    Ryan Noble is another strange case. The rumour was that he fell out with Bruce, which is why he hasn’t been able to really crack the senior squad like Hendo and Colback before him.

    He’s made a strong case for inclusion, though, averaging something like three goals per reserve match. If we do start with two up front (and assuming Bendtner is left out) I’d like to see Noble and Wickham together.

    MON does, of course, favour the long-ish ball (that is, loads of crosses) and I wonder how useful Noble would be in that sort of set-up, as he isn’t as physically dominant as Wickham.

    We’ve just seen that Spurs can be beaten by a team that plays a strong defence. Hopefully our lads are up to that challenge.

  3. This is certainly a match where O’Neill can afford to experiment a little, both with team selection and tactics. There’s far more to gain than lose and playing a conservative game will, I fear, inevitably cost us three points. Giving Noble and McClean (I’ve finally learned how to spell his name!) a decent run out could help upset Spurs’ apple cart and be a great confidence-booster for them. Bendtner’s match-fit again, isn’t he, and Cattermole’s back from suspension. But if anyone should be kept on the bench, it’s Clatteremall.
    Am I alone in still seeing promise in Ji? I’m not saying he should be in the starting lineup on Sunday but as a second-half sub he could come good for us.

  4. “I wonder if any of the folks on Salut have seen us on the telly?”

    Excellent piece btw Eric. There should be no surprise that Bramble and Kilgallon were involved as we’ve nobody else. I’d love to see Noble given a run out soon and like you I’m very excited at the prospect of McClean being given more playing time. If we are to prevent Spurs full backs swamping us then we need to give them something to defend against. McClean looks like the perfect option. If I was O’Neill I’d have him switching wings regularly and give him a decent spell. I’d be tempted to start him but suspect that he will be on the bench.

  5. It wasn’t Sixer speaking but someone in front, who said: “That feller behind you in the green hat just pissed in your pocket!”

  6. O’Neill is pragmatic and unlike Bruce I hope, one who will see solutions when problems arise. Bramble and Kilgallon back in the fold? Well we are short of centre backs with Turner injured and Ferdinand gone. Bruce of course would have played either Elmo or Richardson at fullback and pushed O’Shea inside. Expect MON already has the lowdown on Angeleri just in case.

    Sunday’s display was nothing to get over excited about – coming as it did against a team who will do well to avoid the drop but in this instance the manager reacted positively. Bruce would have cursed his luck and offered excuses as his substitutions – Elmo for Larsson, Meyler for Sessignon and Ji for Vaughan (who might not have played anyway) had had no effect.

    But we got the three points we should be getting against teams like Blackburn at the SSOL. I expected 10 points at least from the last 4 games and we have 4. Let’s hope those dropped to Fulham, Wolves and Wigan don’t haunt us at the end of the season. With Spurs, Everton and Man City all difficult games to come and an unpredictable QPR sandwiched inbetween, there could still be difficult times ahead before the new manager can begin to get a reasonable number of points on the board. He has hinted at this himself. However, things are looking up.

  7. I think that, at last, we have a manager that finds the expectations a positive challenge, rather than a daunting one.

    That is the difference, IMHO, between O’Neill, Bruce and the rest of the hoi polloi who have occupied the manager’s chair over the past decades.

    In the short term, I don’t think any Sunderland supporter is expecting entry into The Europa League never mind the The Champions League BUT, given time, who knows?

    Tottenham have shown how a club can be turned round in a, relatively, short time scale, without attempting to compete, financially, with Chelsea or Manchester City.

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