Saturday’s goalless draw with Aston Villa means that Sunderland have now drawn a blank in their last four League games. With three matches left and four points needed to finish higher than last season, it’s possible that a run that started so well under Martin O’Neill’s could end in disappointment, especially with Manchester United to visit the Stadium of Light on the final day of the season.
O’Neill’s first 10 games in charge at the Stadium of Light brought 19 points and with a run to the FA Cup quarter finals thrown into the mix, the dark days of the Steve Bruce era seemed behind them. However, Sunderland’s last 11 League games have brought just 11 points which must seem worryingly similar to the 11 points Sunderland got from the first 13 games of the season under Steve Bruce.
All this will no doubt leave some asking: was it all just a false dawn, under the Irishman? Well, no. O’Neill made his name at Leicester lifting the League Cup twice and reaching the final on another occasion. The Foxes also finished in the top ten in all of the four seasons he managed them in the top-flight. Yet each featured runs of exceptional form followed by fallow periods interwoven with strong cup campaigns. What Sunderland are going through is par for the course with the Ulsterman as manager.
In 1996-97, Leicester’s first following promotion, they were ninth after 27 games having gained a healthy 36 points before going on a run of nine without a win that pulled them into relegation trouble. Six points in their last two matches saw them finish 10th. The following season saw them sitting in the heady heights of fourth after 12 games with 21 points (just four off top spot). One win in their next 11 saw them fall to ninth. They eventually finished in 10th, but with six points more than the previous season.
After the first 16 games of O’Neill’s final season in charge Leicester were fifth with 29 points, they them lost five and drew two of the next seven falling to 10th but during that barren run they beat Arsenal in the FA Cup and Fulham in the League Cup. They ended the season lifting the latter trophy and with their best points total under O’Neill.
After a spell with Celtic and a period out of the game, O’Neill returned to the Premier League with Villa and the pattern was repeated. In the 2008/09 season, the club was third after 25 games with 51 points. They then won two of their last 13 to finish 6th. The following season, in which they again finished 6th, Villa were fourth after 18 games but three wins in the next 13 saw them drop to seventh. However, during that poor League run, they reached the FA Cup semi finals and lost the League Cup final – their first final appearance in a decade.
So, what’s all this got to do with Sunderland, I hear you ask? Well, it’s worth noting as it demonstrates that O’Neill’s Midas touch doesn’t come without rough patches – just like the one the Black Cats are going through now.
That said any Sunderland fans grumbling about recent results should look at the alternative. Sixth place must seem like long lost glory days for Villa fans right now, while two years after O’Neill left Leicester the Foxes were relegated.
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