MARTIN O’Neill pinpointed Alfred N’Diaye’s late miss as the crucial moment of Saturday’s game against Reading.
The scores were level at 1-1 with quarter of an hour to go when Adam Johnson’s pass played the young Frenchman in on goal from the right with the penalty area packed but with Adam Federici’s goal exposed.
Instead of crossing or testing the keeper, N’Diaye screwed his shot wide of the target and Reading got off the hook and shortly after grabbed a winner at the opposite end.
O’Neill said: “It was a big moment in the game because we didn’t score and Reading know they’re capable of scoring late goals.
“He really should have done better, should have hit the target, and if he wasn’t going to score, he should at least have put the shot across goal so that the ball might have come out to a team-mate rather than going into touch.”
The manager did not want to be hard on his January recruit.
“Alfred is still learning the game,” he said. “He is making runs too early at times and he wants to do everything at the moment.
“But once he settles down, he will do well for us.
“He’s very disappointed right now, but he will impress as time goes on.”
O’Neill was badly hurt by the result, fully aware that the Black Cats could have had a win, should have had a draw but finished empty-handed.
“We shouldn’t have lost it,” he said, shaking his head.
“To concede so late on in the game, particularly on the back of two really good chances for us, was upsetting.
“Danny Graham forced a good save and Alfred should have done better with his chance.
“I was very pleased with Danny Graham, it would have been fantastic from our point of view had he scored.
“But given the fact we didn’t score it became imperative that we didn’t concede.”
“The game could have gone either way on a pitch that wasn’t ideal.
“It took us a bit of time to adjust but when we did we were always in with a chance of taking something from the game but we didn’t help ourselves at the end.”