Send us your pictures, video, news and views by texting DURHAM TIMES to 80360 or email us
Draw highlights the need for new faces
SUNDERLAND chairman Ellis Short spent Friday evening having dinner with Martin O'Neill and his squad, but the performance he witnessed from the stands on Saturday will offer him a timely reminder that discussions ahead of the summer transfer window are imminent.
In his three years at the helm, Short has injected a considerable amount of money into the club in a bid to turn the Black Cats into a genuine force in the Premier League.
A top ten finish last season suggested his investment was beginning to pay off, but it seems attempts to take Sunderland on to the next level by competing for European football are stuttering.
Given their appalling start to the season, which ultimately cost Steve Bruce his job last November, the progress Sunderland have made under O'Neill has been encouraging.
They have climbed up the league and at one point were even considered genuine contenders for a European place, but a significant tail off in the wake of their FA Cup quarter-final exit has brought the Black Cats back down to earth.
Not finishing the campaign in the top ten would be a huge disappointment, and despite the fact the Black Cats are one win away from their best season since 2001, Saturday's 2-2 draw with relegation threatened Bolton Wanderers indicated reinforcements are needed in the summer.
There is no doubt O'Neill will sit down with his chairman in the near future to discuss their first move in the transfer window, but the Black Cats boss is confident such talks will be positive.
"Ellis joined us on Friday night for a bite of dinner with the rest of the team and he does that occasionally but it was not really a proper chance to speak," O'Neill said.
"I think both of us were more interested in what was in front of us. I am not sure what I had but would not mind having it now but no doubt we will get an opportunity to speak.
"We will sit down and have a discussion on it but obviously we want to try and get stronger. We mentioned before about the fact we have some loan players here, so you would not mind having more permanent people at the football club."
One player O'Neill did try to sign in January was Kevin Davies and the Sunderland boss was left wishing the Bolton striker had been in his side on Saturday.
The 35-year-old put Owen Coyle's side ahead in the 26th minute with a brilliant first time shot from Martin Petrov's cross, before earning the Trotters a point after Nicklas Bendtner and James McClean had given Sunderland the advantage.
Davies' physical presence proved too much for Michael Turner and Matt Kilgallon and O'Neill believes his attacking players should take a leaf out of the Bolton man's book.
He said: "People talk about him being an old-fashioned centre forward, but he will cause problems. He is not afraid to get hurt, he is a nuisance but he is more than that - he has actually got more than a bit of ability.
"I think he is an example to aspiring centre forwards - people like Connor Wickham could learn a great deal from him, a great deal from him."
O'Neill handed Craig Gordon his first start in 14 months against Bolton and the Black Cats boss had the Scottish goalkeeper to thank for ensuring a draw didn't turn into defeat.
With his current deal set to expire in the summer, Gordon is expected to leave the Stadium of Light at the end of the season, but a string of good saves, particularly to deny Ivan Klasnic a late winner, O'Neill has a difficult decision to make over his future.
"We will talk. With Craig it was not specifically this game but we wanted him to play a game before the end of the season," O'Neill said.
"I think it has given him a big boost of confidence as well but we have some decisions to make, because I have three very, very good keepers at the football club and the way that Craig performed I might have some difficult decisions to make."
Having gone four games without scoring, O'Neill was relieved to see his side grab two on Saturday, but he was left disappointed by their defensive display.
The Black Cats boss has been delighted with the response he has had since arriving at the club, but he insists their recent slump suggests they are far from being a top eight team in the Premier League.
"We are not (an eighth place team)," O'Neill said. "I don't for one minute think that.
"You would not believe how delighted I am with the response of the team. I am ecstatic and we got there far earlier than we thought, so now is the time maybe to take stock.
"We have the time of two games to see where we are and I don't think I would be saying anything out of turn to say we would look to improve the team if we can."