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Sunderland v Manchester United preview: Martin O'Neill knows he needs fortunes to change fast as he prepares to face Alex Ferguson's side


Martin O'Neill has ordered Sunderland to forget about the points which have slipped from their grasp and concentrate on those they need to avoid relegation.

The Black Cats have collected only three of the last 21 Barclays Premier League points they have contested and firmly believe the quality of some of the performances during that run warranted a healthier return.

However, the manager knows there is little mileage in ifs, buts and might-have-beens, and with Chelsea, Newcastle and Everton waiting in the wings after Manchester United's visit to the Stadium of Light tomorrow, the time has come for the talking to stop.

O'Neill, whose side could only draw at home to Norwich a fortnight again despite playing for more than an hour against 10 men, said: “At some stage, you have to actually talk about points on the board.

“It's all very well saying for a couple of weeks now we should have picked up a point here, we should have done this and that.

“Within a couple of weeks, that's gone, people forget about it and don't want to talk about it anymore.

“Our recent performance here at the Stadium of Light really wasn't up to what we should have been capable of doing.

“Particularly against 10 men and not creating the number of chances we really should have done, it was really disappointing.

“We have got to get that out of the system and really go for it.”

That would represent a bold approach tomorrow with United 15 points clear at the top of the table and Sunderland still holding a four-point advantage, but one which is fast evaporating, over the bottom three.

In addition, the international break saw O'Neill lose his most potent weapon, striker and leading scorer Steven Fletcher, for the rest of the season with ankle ligament damage.

However, the Ulsterman will send his players out urging them to swallow any nerves and fight for survival.

O'Neill said: “You have to do it, you have to overcome odds that sometimes seem as if they are stacked against you.

“There is a lot of spirit in the dressing room and that spirit alone might wrest a couple of points.

“Anyone coming in and telling you they are completely nerveless, I am not so sure that would be the case.

“You have to have some sort of nervousness - but you have to be able to deal with that, take care of it and not let it affect your game.

“From that viewpoint, yes, I think nerves and tension all become a part of it, but it's something you shouldn't be subjecting yourself to every single minute.”

Fletcher's loss, along with that of skipper Lee Cattermole, who has also been ruled out for the remainder of the campaign after undergoing knee surgery, has robbed O'Neill of a significant part of the spine of his team.

In addition, midfielder David Vaughan and playmaker Stephane Sessegnon are both struggling with ankle problems and the manager will hope for better news on that front.

January signing Danny Graham, who has started alongside Fletcher in the last four games without opening his goal account, will shoulder the burden in attack in the Scotland international's absence.

Graham's £5million arrival from Swansea sparked a clamour for O'Neill to abandon his previously favoured 4-4-1-1 formation for a more conventional 4-4-2 approach, but he may now have little option but to revert to Plan A.

He said: “I am not overly worried about the clamour. What you try to do is put out a side to win some games.

“We have used Steven on his own there for most of the season, Sessegnon playing in behind him.

“With Steven out now, we will have to make some sort of adjustments, but we will see how we go.”