MARTIN O’NEILL insists Sunderland’s final pre-season preparations far outway any favourable reception he may receive at Leicester City tomorrow.
O’Neill returns to former club Leicester this weekend for Sunderland’s last friendly outing before the Black Cats’ Premier League campaign gets underway at Arsenal seven days later.
The Sunderland boss spent five memorable years in charge of the Foxes – lifting the club into the top flight, twice qualifying for Europe and twice winning the League Cup. But while he has fond memories of his time at Leicester, O’Neill’s focus is on the present as he prepares to commence his first full season in charge of the Wearsiders.
[http://www.hartlepoolmail.co.uk/sport/football/sunderland-afc/tottenham-s-defoe-on-sunderland-s-radar-as-deal-for-wolves-fletcher-stalls-1-4820466|Defoe move not ruled out}
O’Neill said: “I don’t think the reception I might get is that important. There will be Leicester fans now who have never heard of me!
“But I had great days at Leicester, I loved it. I had a difficult few weeks at the start, which then became a difficult few months, but I had a great time.
“I loved the club and I made some good friends there, who have remained friends.
“I was never involved at the King Power Stadium – it was always [their former home] Filbert Street when I was there – but I have been to the new ground with Aston Villa for a League Cup match, which we won 3-2.
“We also met at Villa Park in the same competition the next season and they beat us, which didn’t go down so well!”
O’Neill will hope to have Matt Kilgallon, Titus Bramble and Connor Wickham back in the fold after the trio missed Wednesday’s draw with Derby through injury, although Stephane Sessegnon and Phil Bardsley are likely to again miss out.
Sunderland produced a better showing at Derby and O’Neill is eager for his players to stake a final claim for a place in the side at the Emirates.
“We’re just getting prepared for the season. Physically, I want to get the players in as good a shape as possible,” added O’Neill.
“We’ve got the Arsenal game which is very important – of course, every game is important – and then two more games before we go into a break and also the transfer deadline.
“You’re trying to look ahead, but not too far ahead. All things are just in the present.
“This next game we have got is another chance for players to once again stake their claim for a place in the team.”