Relief for O'Neill as Fletcher and McClean provide welcome spark for Sunderland
Sunderland 3 Reading 0: Relief. One year and nine days into the tenure of a Premier League manager. One year to the day since his first game in charge and the emotion was huge. Martin O'Neill needed a victory. He got one last night.
He got a show of support from the Sunderland owner, Ellis Short. The pockets of play in which his team has looked like one were extended to the length of a game and with that came three points and a huge sigh from supporters who have not turned on O'Neill and have not wanted to either.
How significant the applause which followed Sunderland off the field on Saturday, after they had again been defeated, by Chelsea. Belief. It does no harm to a manager fighting for the opportunity to manage. O'Neill signed two players for significant fees in the summer. Steven Fletcher scored another excellent goal last night, after James McClean had given Sunderland a third-minute lead. Adam Johnson, before he limped off, again showed improvement. Danny Rose, the full-back signed on loan from Spurs in the summer, was once more excellent. It is why O'Neill keeps asking for time.
"There is pressure on everyone. You know that. We have to keep going. This is the results business. The boys have given everything, I don't fear anything. I've been in football 30-odd years." They were the words of the Reading manager, Brian McDermott. The spotlight will blind him now, seven months after promotion. Football, it is a game of short memories these days.
For O'Neill, came the contrast. "I'm delighted to have won, naturally," he said. "The sense of relief, too. It was good, good to win the game. We got off to a great start. We've been chasing games here at the Stadium of Light and giving teams big starts and trying to get back into the game. The first goal was very important. There was no time for nerves to build up. It took anxiety out of the crowd.
"You can talk until you're blue in the face. It's a great old feeling. We have some tough times ahead. The win might have lifted us a couple of places. We have to try and see it through. That was a boost for us tonight. The spirit of the side is still strong. I want to try with all my might to put a team together, that not only can compete, but they will look forward to seeing the team play," O'Neill added.
For McDermott these appear dangerous times. He spoke of Danny Guthrie not travelling because his head was not right. He called for there to be investment during the January transfer window.
"The club made a decision and we didn't invest in the summer," he said. "We all know January is a difficult window. It is down to the owner to see where we're at. I think we need to be there. Danny Guthrie made a decision his head wasn't right to travel.
"Everyone has to be going in the same direction. You have to put yourself up for selection."
On last night's showing, investment looks a good idea. Sunderland could have won by more. McClean's shot was low and painful for the visitors. Fletcher's flick was clever, with his left foot when he was facing away from goal and, in injury time, Stéphane Sessègnon added the third.
Short had walked through the media room before the game, his support for O'Neill unwavering. "I would like to do well for him as well," said O'Neill.
Man of the match Rose.
Match rating 5/10.
Referee N Swarbrick (Lancashire).