Martin O'Neill did not expect to still be shadowed by the spectre of relegation 15 months after he was called in to eradicate such a threat at Sunderland. It is, however, the reality.
Sunderland face Norwich at the Stadium of Light today with concerns about form – two draws and four defeats in their past six games – and the possibility of falling out of the Premier League again a real possibility as they face Manchester United, Chelsea and Newcastle in the following three games after today.
O'Neill's defence that he has had little scope for change is valid. He has bought only four players in that period – Steven Fletcher, Adam Johnson, Danny Graham and Alfred N'Diaye – a cooling in the transfer market that was called for by the owner, Ellis Short. If Sunderland survive this season O'Neill wants the time and the backing to turn them into a Premier League club of substance. "If Everton is a football club you would look at, it is one that didn't develop overnight," he said. "I'm not so sure anything does now. Obviously if this continues to be a struggle for season after season then of course it's not to be of anybody's benefit if that is going to continue.
"If we see this season through and look to really improve the squad next season, I think that is what we're looking to do. If we do that we can try and push on from there. It is easier said than done.''
Asked if it still was not his team, he agreed. "I have signed four players for the football club. We have essentially the same side. That is not really the point. That is like passing the buck. You accept the job and you accept the circumstances of when you get it, you accept the circumstances that are there in front of you.
"I'm well aware of that. We are trying to do something if we can in the summertime, but that is nine games off. It's a lot of time and we will look at it then.
"In fairness to the owner, there were some changes made by Steve [Bruce] the previous season and at the time the owner possibly thought having a revolving door is not really what you want.
"Having been in the job for 15 months, I have a fair idea of what the team would need to be to be absolutely competitive, in the sense you are going into the League with confidence about where you are going to go for the next eight or nine months." First things first: a win is required today.
Sunderland v Norwich City is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 1.30pmReuse content