At the end of the Press conference following their goalless draw with Tottenham, Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill was asked whether revenge was on his mind ahead of their next game against Everton. He said: “If we play like we did in the FA Cup at Goodison we’ve got a chance, if we play like we did in the replay here, well…” before shrugging his shoulders.
Unfortunately, from the Wearsiders’ point of view it was the latter outcome which occurred and, despite all the good work and all the fine results, it’s those two defeats against Everton which put Sunderland’s season into perspective. When they welcomed Everton for the FA Cup quarter-final replay there was a genuine sense that silverware was within their grasp but they were comprehensively outplayed as they were on Saturday in the League.
Truth be told, that FA Cup run had overshadowed the fact that results in the League for Sunderland have taken a slight turn for the worse over the last few weeks. A run of six wins and just one defeat in eight League games has become a run of two wins and four defeats in nine. One point and no goals in two games over Easter and a drop back into the bottom of the table has added to the impression that, while it’s hardly panic stations at the Stadium of Light, Sunderland’s season is in danger of fizzling out and the momentum built up after O’Neill’s arrival is in danger of ebbing away.
The manager has banished talk of holidays at the club as he wants his side to end the season on a high as he believes that will provide a good foundation upon which to start the following season. Who better to welcome in their next match, then, than a Wolves team which has lost seven games on the spin and has only once in its last 19 League games managed to eek out all three points. Terry Connor won’t be relishing Saturday’s trip to the North East as, despite their current dip in form, Sunderland are still tough customers at home with just that FA Cup disappointment to Everton and an injury time defeat to Arsenal blotting their copy book this year.
It’s perhaps unsurprising with the season drawing to a close and with nothing but pride, points and places to play for, that O’Neill is having to fend off questions about whether his star players will still be wearing the red-and-white stripes come next season. There is constant speculation suggesting Stephane Sessegnon had failed to settle is family on Wearside and linking him to a move to Arsenal although, as O’Neill pointed out this week, would the Benin international be playing as well as he is if he wasn’t happy?
One player who O’Neill has allowed to leave is Ahmed Elmohamady who is linking up with the Egypt squad for three international matches thus gaining match fitness and perhaps the chance to place himself in the shop window.
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