AS far as birthday weekends go, Martin O’Neill will have had better.
The Sunderland manager turned 61 on Friday, still looking remarkably youthful for his age.
But his team and the vagaries of the game in recent weeks seem determined to combine to add a few more grey hairs to his head.
Sunderland are doing themselves no favours in this recent run of two points from 15, and against Fulham the shortcomings which have been undermining otherwise good work were to the fore.
A classic example of that would be Fulham’s second goal – a purposeful counter-attack from a Sunderland corner after the Black Cats had already handed their opponents the advantage by conceding a soft penalty.
O’Neill took the blame for the breakaway goal on his own shoulders.
“We’re disappointed with Fulham breaking on us from their own penalty area and getting a goal from one of our corners,” he said.
“It was very poor organisation from us, and that’s down to me.
“I was disappointed.
“The last thing you should be doing when the ball is dead and it is going into their penalty area, you should not be some seconds later pulling the ball out of your own net.”
It was an odd set-up for the dead ball – 6ft 2ins Alfred N’Diaye running towards Adam Johnson for a short corner while diminutive Stephane Sessegnon was hidden in the box.
But beyond that, the goal exposed the lack of pace of centre-halves John O’Shea and Titus Bramble in recovering their ground from the opposition penalty box.
O’Neill though was not tempted to be overly hard on a team, which came back from two goals down to earn a point, and arguably deserved victory as they piled on the pressure in the closing stages.
“I felt we did enough to deserve to win it,” he said. “And I’m very pleased at the way we got ourselves back into the game.
“I’m disappointed with a lot of things, but at least we got something out of it.”
Key to that success was the form of Stephane Sessegnon who grabbed his second goal in as many games after Craig Gardner had pulled one back from the penalty spot.
“He’s full of confidence, and he’s very important to us,” agreed the Black Cats’ boss.
“Stephane is getting back to his best, and is playing brilliantly at the moment in terms of going past players, and being full of confidence.
“He’s looking very dangerous, and I feel that the goals have done him good as well.”
“He seems happy enough to go out on the flanks when Danny Graham is in the side, but was also happy to go back into the attack when Danny came off.”