James McClean scores Sunderland's second goal with a header. Photo: Steve Bardens.
James McClean scores Sunderland's second goal with a header. Photo: Steve Bardens.

MARTIN O’Neill promised SportMail he would be putting out as strong as team as possible against Peterborough and he was as good as his word.

The full-back positions – filled by midfielders Craig Gardner and Jack Colback against Wigan midweek – were returned to more natural custodians Phil Bardsley and Kieran Richardson.

Gardner himself was deployed in his preferred midfield and the Sunderland manager made only two changes from the side which smashed Wigan 4-1 at the DW Stadium.

As a result, Sunderland’s renaissance under Martin O’Neill continued at London Road where they eased past the npower Championship side.

The Black Cats controlled the first half and almost went ahead when James McClean rattled the bar with a fierce drive in the first half, but they soon took the lead after the break through Sebastian Larsson’s free-kick.

McClean, 22, got the goal he deserved just before the hour when he glanced home Larsson’s cross to make it five wins from seven matches since O’Neill took charge.

The turnaround in fortunes since the northern Irishman took over has been remarkable.

“There were a couple of reasons for putting out a strong side,” said O’Neill, explaining his selection.

“Firstly, we’ve eked out a few points in the Premier League, which is obviously important – it has given us a little bit more breathing space.

“Who knows what team I would have put out if we’d been in more difficult circumstances?

“But I hope I would have done the same – which is to give the competition the respect it deserves.

“It’s a fantastic competition.”

Read Graeme Anderson’s full match report, plus reaction to Sunderland’s FA Cup draw against Middlesbrough, in today’s Sportmail.