THE longest top-flight spell of Martin O’Neill’s managerial career without a victory was reached at the weekend as Sunderland’s winless run stretched to nine draws and three defeats.
But his players could hardly have come any closer to ending that barren run than they did at West Ham on Saturday.
So late was Kevin Nolan’s equalising goal that there was barely time to get the ball back into the centre circle before referee Lee Mason blew for full-time.
It was a moment of awful anti-climax for the Sunderland manager, who admits a league victory would now be more than welcome – after four successive draws to start the 2012/13 Premier League campaign.
But he says that the run would only be a cause for concern if it wasn’t spread across two completely different seasons.
“We haven’t won in 12 matches, but I am not overly concerned because it is over two different seasons,” he said.
“When you look at last season, we got a lot of points early on in December, January, February last season and maybe we escaped relegation more quickly than I thought.
“But, at the back end of the season, I believe we never really recovered from losing the FA Cup quarter-final against Everton at the Stadium of Light.
“We were well-beaten that day and we never really recovered, even though our next game was against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium and we drew 3-3 when we should have won.
“That was last season. This season is different.
“We didn’t win at the weekend, but if we had won against West Ham – a big if – having had three games away from home and one at home, it would have been a really good start to the season for us.
“We just have to try and win a game and obviously I think this side is capable of doing that.
“We looked as if we had dealt with just about everything that had been thrown at us but we were never able to kill the game off.
“We had some great opportunities in the second half.
“West Ham were pressing forward and leaving the door open for us. We should have taken advantage of it. We should have won the game.”
O’Neill could at least reflect on £12million man Steven Fletcher repaying another instalment of his transfer fee with a fourth goal in three league games.
“He’s playing brilliantly for us,” he said.
“He’s scored all of our goals so far, but it is also the rest of his game.
“He is bringing players into play, giving us that bit of respite at times and he is proving himself an all-round top quality centre-forward.”