MARTIN O’Neill admits he is wary of “letting down” supporters as he prepares for his North-East derby bow.
O’Neill faces the intensity of a clash with one of Sunderland’s neighbours for the first time on Sunday as Middlesbrough visit the Stadium of Light in the FA Cup fourth round.
The Ulsterman can point to a proud derby record during his managerial career – winning 16 out of 27 Old Firm clashes and savouring victory in all four meetings with Birmingham City when Aston Villa boss.
But when asked whether he was looking forward to his first taste of a North-East tussle, the Sunderland boss joked: “No...
“I obviously get concerned at not performing, letting people down and losing the game.
“But I’m sure it will be a really good experience.
“This might not go down well with every Sunderland fan, but it would be great to have a really strong North East, with the three sides still in the Premiership.
“It has traditionally been a hotbed of football and you want it to be as strong as possible.”
Read more of O’Neill’s thoughts, plus more build-up to the Wear/Tees FA Cup derby, in today’s Sportmail.