O'Neill aware of failings up front

First published in Football Durham Times: Photograph of the Author by , Chief Football/Golf Writer

MARTIN O'NEILL thinks Sunderland's quality in front of goal will need to improve if they are to ensure the sort of stutter that has spoiled their revival under him is not repeated.

O'Neill lost the seventh game of his six month tenure at Fulham yesterday, when Phil Bardsley's stunning goal was not enough to prevent the Black Cats from slipping to defeat.

A Clint Dempsey free-kick and a deflected Mousa Dembele drive proved enough to extend Sunderland's winless run to seven league games - eight if the FA Cup defeat to Everton is included.

But it could have been so different at Craven Cottage, where substitutes Fraizer Campbell and Nicklas Bendtner were the most guilty parties after their introductions in the second half.

O'Neill said: "I think we missed some gilt-edged chances and that eventually proved the difference in the game. But it is something we are aware of.

"They were relatively simple chances for us and while scoring a goal is relatively difficult, as I have said before it might not be that difficult."

All things considered, Sunderland have enjoyed a fruitful season since O'Neill's installation. Having won just twice in the opening 13 matches of the season under Steve Bruce, the Northern Irishman has led them away from relegation trouble in good time.

Rather than head to Fulham yesterday worrying about what division they will be in next season, Sunderland had no such fears. Instead they just had designs on climbing in to the top ten.

O'Neill said: "I would not have liked to be coming here under the kind of pressure the teams below us are under.

"We have one more game to go now. We now have Manchester United next week and it's a great fixture to end it with. I'm really looking forward to it."

Despite the fact a defeat to United next Sunday would ensure Sunderland have finished with a run of nine games without a win, O'Neill is satisfied the record doesn't paint the whole picture.

"It was an encouraging performance by us against a good Fulham side," said O'Neill. "In possession, I thought we passed the ball pretty well and to concede just after we had scored a great equaliser was particularly galling.

"We should have won some of the matches we haven't. We went to Manchester City and drew 3-3, we should have won at Villa Park and the linesman chopped off a goal, but you are going to get that over a season.

"You don't want lose games, but there were encouraging signs and (Clint) Dempsey's goal was terrific. He has played really well and had a great season. It was a very good goal indeed."

The manner in which Sunderland conceded the second goal was of concern to O'Neill.

After watching Bardsley finish off a neat move by converting a 22-yard drive with power and precision, Sunderland then hit the self destruct button in the immediate aftermath of that equaliser.

From the restart, with Stephane Sessegnon changing his footwear, Lee Cattermole charged towards the half way line, where he was turned by Dembele.

The Belgium international then made the most of the space in front of him by charging through unattended before his powerful shot deflected off Michael Turner and hit goalkeeper Simon Mignolet's top right hand corner.

O'Neill said: "I think we were distracted by the fact Sessegnon had to change his footwear at the time.

"Within ten seconds of kick-off they have made it 2-1, which nullifies our goal and puts us on the back foot again. We should have dealt with it better."

O'Neill also handed South Korean striker Ji Dong-Won his first start under him. Ji showed some nice touches, including a lay-off for Bardsley's goal, but failed to seriously test Fulham's Mark Schwarzer.

O'Neill said: "It was Ji's first start under me. I knew he would get tired in the last half hour, however, I thought there were some very encouraging signs."

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