Sunday 20 August 2017

Sunderland’s Martin O’Neill has high praise for Blackburn boss ahead of tonight’s clash

SUNDERLAND boss Martin O'Neill has praised the ongoing efforts of Blackburn counterpart Steve Kean to keep his club in the Barclays Premier League.

The Scot has spent much of the campaign batting against a chorus of disapproval from Rovers fans, and heads into the final 10 games of the campaign three points clear of the relegation zone but with top-flight status far from being secured.

The first of those games comes tonight when Blackburn have home advantage against Sunderland.

O'Neill, who launched his reign on Wearside with a 2-1 victory over Blackburn on December 11, has saluted Kean's fortitude.

He said: "He has managed it very well indeed, very well. Management is not that easy these days.

"You are under constant bombardment. When results are not going so well, you expect to get it very single week.

"They have had a few results there that have been terrific. I saw them a couple of weeks ago against Aston Villa.

"I thought they were sluggish in the first half, but performed very well in the second half, very well indeed, and they have gone on to win since that.

"They have got 25 points and I am sure at this moment, while they wouldn't consider themselves safe by any stretch of the imagination, at least it's something to go for. It's something to hang on to as well."

Sunderland were themselves in danger of being sucked into the fight against relegation when owner and chairman Ellis Short decided to replace Steve Bruce with O'Neill.

The decision has paid off handsomely, with the Black Cats now sitting in ninth place in the table on 37 points, and knowing the prospect of an FA Cup semi-final clash with Liverpool at Wembley awaits if they can see off Everton in next week's quarter-final replay.

One of the key figures in that revival has been Belgian goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, who capped a fine run of form with a stunning double save from John Heitinga and Nikica Jelavic at Goodison Park on Saturday to rekindle memories of Jimmy Montgomery's heroics in the 1973 FA Cup final.

O'Neill said: "They were terrific saves, no question about it. Jim Montgomery is obviously renowned for those saves in the cup final because everybody was watching.

"But Jim Montgomery says himself that he made every bit as good a save in an earlier round - I think it might have been against Notts County at the time - to keep Sunderland in the cup.

"Mignolet is playing very well for us. He wants to learn and keep going.

"I thought the first save was fantastic - from where I was, it looked in - and then he got up so quickly to block the second one, so if he doesn't get confidence after that, he never will."

Sunderland will once again be without injured left-back Kieran Richardson, but Phil Bardsley hopes to shake off a rib injury to continue at right-back.

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