Right now the club on the most remarkable rise in the North East is Sunderland. Last night’s 3-0 win over Norwich summed up the feel-good factor that is currently engulfing the Stadium of Light since Martin O’Neill was appointed manager.
Frazier Campbell, having been out of action for 17 months because of a nightmare cruciate ligament injury, followed up his goal against Middlesborough in the FA Cup at the weekend with a wonderful dipping strike to open the scoring against Norwich. Stephane Sessegnon, who struggled under the management of O’Neill’s predecessor Steve Bruce, scored his fourth goal in his last seven league games by heading home a flowing move that he had started. James McClean, a young winger who never got an opportunity under Bruce, continued to repay the faith shown in him by O’Neill having been handed his debut in the manager’s first match in the dugout.
Since O’Neill took over on Wearside at the start of December, the Black Cats have won six of his nine league games in charge. The two defeats they have suffered in that time have been away losses at Tottenham and Chelsea, and in amongst that run was a 1-0 win over Manchester City on New Year’s Day.
From taking just 11 points from their first 13 games of the season under Steve Bruce, Sunderland are now on 30 from 23. When O’Neill arrived, they were 16th. Now they are eighth, on course for their best league finish in more than a decade.
The table from Opta shows, no team has performed better in the Premier League since O’Neill first took to the dugout on December 11.
Sunderland are by no means the first club to enjoy the ‘O’Neill Effect’ at the start of his reign. In his first job at Wycombe Wanderers, the Chairmen began the season with just one defeat in their first 12 matches, including a run of five straight wins.
At Leicester he won six of his first 10 games in charge, at Celtic he won each of his first dozen matches and for Aston Villa he had an 11-game unbeaten start which included draws at Arsenal and Chelsea.
A team experiencing a bounce under a new manager is one thing. Maintaining that upward trajectory is quite another.
As we stand the wearsiders are in 8th place 7 points Behind Arsenal and in contention to qualify for the Europa League next season which shows how far they have come after an abysmal start to the season under Steve Bruce.
Unless you are from Newcastle or Middlesbrough, it is hard not to be pleased for the Ulsterman’s impact on Wearside, but it remains to be seen how the team takes shape once he has truly got his feet under the table.
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