Belfast Telegraph

Sunderland 'full of confidence' says Martin O'Neill

By Kate Bamber

Last week's draw with Manchester City has left Sunderland full of confidence ahead of tomorrow's Barclays Premier League clash with Tottenham, according to manager Martin O'Neill.

The Black Cats were unable to prevent a late fightback from Roberto Mancini's side at the Etihad as they scored two late goals to salvage a 3-3 draw and keep their title bid alive.

Sunderland were later charged by the Football Association with failing to control their players during the game following an incident when refereed Phil Dowd awarded a penalty in the 43rd minute.

O'Neill was remaining tight-lipped about the charge today, although he did admit the club would be "sending a response very shortly".

However, he admitted his side's belief is sky high in the wake of the match and, believes their performances are much improved from when they met Tottenham in his second game in charge in December.

"Particularly after the performance against Manchester City, we've got to approach this game full of confidence," O'Neill said.

"I think we're a better side now. Certainly we've got a bit more confidence about ourselves.

"Tottenham have been excellent all season. People talk about a bit of a blip or something like that but they certainly recovered against Swansea (when they won 3-1).

"I don't remember them going through a bad period in terms of performances but like everything else, sometimes you need the results to go along with it.

"It's been a great season from their viewpoint but for ourselves, it's a matter of trying to continue where we left off from Manchester City."

Sunderland are currently ninth in the table while Spurs are level on points with Arsenal, narrowly behind their north London rivals on goal difference to lie in fourth place.

When Sunderland travelled to White Hart Lane last year the league table had a much worse complexion for the Wearside club.

At that stage, they had only picked up three league wins and were languishing in 16th place, one point above the bottom three.

However, O'Neill's arrival heralded a change in fortunes and, after losing 1-0 to Spurs, they amassed 10 points in their next five league games, including a win over Manchester City.

And O'Neill admits his priorities have now changed now that top-flight survival has been all but secured.

"If you could have guaranteed me staying in the league way back in December time I would have taken that," he said.

"The players' response has been magnificent and we have played a lot of these games not only with a bit passion, but with some ability as well.

"From that viewpoint it's been more than encouraging, it's been terrific.

"Now at this stage even I have to admit that we're going to be in this league next season and so why shouldn't we start looking up the table rather than sideways or down below?"

But the Sunderland manager is wary of Harry Redknapp's Tottenham, who will be looking for a win to consolidate fourth place ahead of Chelsea.

"They're a really fine side with really good players," O'Neill said.

"I'm not surprised they've been challenging all year.

"I think they lost a couple of games this season but they've had a fantastic run and it's been a great season.

"I thought their efforts last season in the Champions League were terrific and if that doesn't give them the incentive to want to go again then nothing will.

"They were excellent against Swansea and they will prove a difficult task here for us."

Sunderland will be without defender John O'Shea for the game as he continues to recover from a calf injury, while midfielder Lee Cattermole will face a late injury test due to a knee problem.

Wayne Bridge is set to make a return after he missed out last weekend due to the terms of his loan agreement with parent club Manchester City.

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