Martin O'Neill says Sunderland have lost confidence

Martin O'Neill has insisted that while Sunderland's players are short on confidence they do not lack passion.

Sunday's loss to Wolves was their seventh of the Premier League season and left them 17th in the table.

But new manager O'Neill said: "Confidence is not at its highest. It just ebbed away [against Wolves] and they conceded the late goal.

"But there is very good spirit among the players. There is an energy in this football club and an obvious passion."

However the former Aston Villa, Celtic, Leicester, Norwich and Wycombe manager did admit that an immediate upturn in form was essential.

They host Blackburn on Sunday but then travel to face Tottenham and QPR with fixtures against Everton and Manchester City to follow over the festive season.

"Obviously we are in a little bit of trouble at the moment. We have been losing games and we could have had a few more points on the board," O'Neill said.

"Sunday's game is very important for us. The players are aware of that and we just need to start winning some matches. The sooner we can do that the better."

The 59-year-old, who said he has yet to discuss whether transfer funds will be available, said of his own return to management after a 15-month break: "I felt I was ready to come back. I really want to do well."

And speaking of his own childhood allegiance to Sunderland, O'Neill, who has joined on a three-year deal after replacing Steve Bruce, said: "I supported Sunderland as a boy. I was brought up where people supported Rangers and Celtic - and another English team.

"I chose Sunderland. But I wouldn't want to play too much up to the Sunderland 'boyhood hero' thing."