Martin O'Neill defends out-of-sorts Sunderland

 

Martin O'Neill has defended shot-shy Sunderland - but warned that they are not “too good” to get drawn into a relegation scrap.

The Black Cats have managed, according to some statistics, only 13 shots on target in nine league matches - by far the worst in the top flight and are the lowest scorers with just six goals.

O'Neill queried the accuracy of the stats but admitted the players need to threaten the opposition goal more.

He also warned his players that it was a mistake to believe the squad had too much quality to get drawn into the battle at the bottom of the Barclays Premier League.

In terms of the shots, O'Neill said: "We have our own statistician in here and he tells me it depends who you look at.

"But what doesn't lie is the number of goals that we have scored.

"What we have to do is have more shots at goal regardless of whether I believe or don't believe the stats, and I don't need anyone to tell me that.

"We are playing reasonably okay but we need to be more incisive.

"I don't believe we have ever been prolific in that area but we do need to create more.

"The responsibility is mine, but we should be able to have more shots at goal and I'm not talking about from ridiculous angles but about not spurning opportunities and having the ball in the opposition penalty box more often.

"I have not completed a full season here yet. It just takes a bit of time, and by hook or by crook I intend to make this a team that the supporters are genuinely proud of."

O'Neill's Swedish midfielder Seb Larsson said this week he had no thoughts of a relegation battle because it was early in the season and "there are too many good players here for that", but the Sunderland boss warned against any such complacency.

He added: "I don't know what Seb said but I understand that that's the viewpoint. There's no such thing as that - only seven or eight teams would have no thoughts other than being in this league next year.

"Then there is a group of about 12 teams who can never say they are comfortable at all, and we are one of those sides.

"I even heard David Moyes say - and Everton are a very fine side - that they may be in the top four but they still look around and make sure they have the points on the board."

Everton are Sunderland's opponents tomorrow at Goodison Park and once again the statistics make grim reading for O'Neill: Moyes has faced Sunderland 17 times since taking over at Everton and has yet to experience defeat. It is also 16 years since Sunderland won a league match at Goodison.

O'Neill said: "If the record is poor, we have to try to do something about it - and do it today. It's up to the football club to try to change that."

O'Neill also admitted that Adam Johnson, his summer signing from Manchester City, had yet to settle in - the winger has also been left out of the England squad to face Sweden in a friendly - but that he too needs time.

He added: "Adam Johnson is not here for just five or six games, he's here for some time.

"I have signed two players this season for money and one [Steven Fletcher] has come in and scored goals and settled in very well indeed and Adam has taken a little bit more time but he has got the ability and he has got a career ahead of him."

O'Neill will assess knocks to a couple of unnamed players before deciding on his starting line-up at Everton.

If all are fit, one change may be Danny Rose returning at left-back but otherwise the starting XI is likely to be much the same as the team that lost at home to Aston Villa.

PA

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