New boss sends surge through Stadium of Light
Published 05/01/2012 | 05:00
Martin O'Neill's insistence during his unveiling as Sunderland manager that he had not mentioned a possible January transfer budget with club owner and chairman Ellis Short before accepting the position surprised many.
It appeared either brave or naive; Sunderland had won one of their previous eight games before Steve Bruce's dismissal. There were calls for further investment. Relegation was becoming a real issue.
Those fears seem unnecessarily alarmist now. On Tuesday night at the DW Stadium, O'Neill led his new charges to their fourth victory in six games. They also moved into the top 10 for the first time this season.
How has O'Neill done it?
A fresh start for Lee Cattermole
O'Neill could have wiped his hands of Lee Cattermole; instead he has wiped the slate clean. Within seconds of that astonishing win against Manchester City, O'Neill was on the pitch with his arm around his inspirational captain.
Cattermole had felt the world was against him in the closing stages of Bruce's reign. Now he looks like a weight is lifted off his shoulders. This is a quiet team needing the midfielder at his boisterous best.
Dipping into the reserves
By the end for Bruce, the round holes were getting bigger and the square pegs were dropping through. Moving players into different positions no longer appeared to be working. O'Neill has found more in reserve.
From pitching up three days into his reign at a rain-soaked ground to see his second XI beat Manchester United 6-3, he has pulled rabbits from unlikely hats. Matthew Kilgallon is resurrecting his career -- his start at Wigan was his first for Sunderland in 20 months.
Jack Colback has moved seamlessly to left-back, Craig Gardner to right-back and James McClean has been a revelation since his Premier League bow as a substitute against Blackburn.
Managing the club you supported
O'Neill had to lift up his tracksuit bottom trouser leg shortly after he took over to prove he does not have a Sunderland badge tattooed above his ankle, but that it was part of Wearside folklore is hugely significant.
O'Neill was a Sunderland fan as a child because of his adoration for Charlie Hurley, the big Irish defender. The fans feel he is one of them.
Players buy into his energy
"The players don't feel they can be beaten at the moment," says O'Neill. "I'm delighted with the spirit of the team. They feed off each other."
He constantly talks of energy and courage. There has been no criticism or negativity from the moment he walked in. The players have bought into his energy, huddling around him in freezing training sessions to listen. Players are told they are world beaters and it has produced staggering results.
A man held in the highest esteem
Bobby Charlton spoke about Alex Ferguson in tribute to his 70th birthday on Saturday. He also admitted that Martin O'Neill's name had been mentioned as a possible replacement when Ferguson first planned to retire. (© Independent News Service)