When a football club changes manager they often experience an upsurge in fortunes, with ‘new manager syndrome’ seemingly the perfect antidote for a poor start to a season. Under Steve Bruce Sunderland were going nowhere fast. A dreadful start to the season saw them looking like potential relegation candidates, and the fans turned on the Geordie at the helm of their beloved club. A change was needed and finding the right man for the job was imperative – especially after the less than popular previous appointment. The club needed a charismatic man, a leader and someone to bring belief and passion back to the Wearside faithful – All words that seem synonymous with Martin O’Neill, and a more popular choice of manager would have been hard to find.
Turning the tables
It’s amazing to think that until Saturday’s plucky defeat to Arsenal, Sunderland were top of the form table, taking more points than any other club since O’Neill’s appointment. In fact it took a Thierry Henry 90th minute fairytale goal on his last Premier League appearance for Arsenal to hand Sunderland their first home defeat under the Irish man – It was the kind of goal that was written in the stars long before the fixture came around, and few outside of Sunderland would have begrudged a true premier league great signing off for the last time with such a dramatic winner. To coin a phrase from Iain Dowie, it’s now a case of seeing how good Sunderland’s ‘bouncebackability’ is, and how well they cope with losing so late in a game.
The Future’s Bright
O’Neill’s been successful wherever he’s been – ok so his first job as manager of Norwich ended after six short months due to a falling out with the club’s chairman, but for a man schooled by the great Brian Clough it’s not hard to imagine O’Neill is a strong character who may ruffle a few feathers of his own now and then. However Norwich’s loss was Leicester’s gain, and two league cup triumphs, four mid table finishes and participation in the UEFA Cup created a golden few years in the club’s history.
At Celtic O’Neill brought 3 league titles, 3 Scottish cups, and a league cup to the club, along with a UEFA Cup final where a young Jose Mourinho’s soon to be Champions League winners Porto beat Celtic 2-1 in extra time.
Whilst at Villa he achieved 6th for three consecutive years and took the club to a League Cup final before the Cloughy instincts kicked in once again and he fell out with Randy Learner.
O’Neill has clearly already had a big impact on the players, fans and club alike, and if he can continue to get the best out of the squad, and bring in some of his own players in the future, there’s no doubting Sunderland’s flirtation with relegation nightmares will be a thing of the past, swapped instead for high placed finishes, possible European football, cup finals – and even possibly a little bit of silverware.
Many thanks to Glen Cardy who provided a great photo for this article