Martin O'Neill says opening win as Sunderland manager 'surreal'

By Phil McNultyChief football writer at The Stadium of Light
Martin O'Neill
O'Neill watched his side score twice in the final six minutes to defeat Blackburn

Martin O'Neill admitted Sunderland's late comeback to earn a home victory against Blackburn was "surreal".

Taking charge of Sunderland for the first time since succeeding Steve Bruce, O'Neill's side trailed to Simon Vukcevic's goal with six minutes left.

David Vaughan's equaliser and Sebastian Larsson's injury-time free-kick gave Sunderland a 2-1 win.

O'Neill said: "Even in my wildest dreams I didn't think we would win in those circumstances."

The dramatic turnaround pushed them out of the Premier League's bottom three.

"It was a great goal by David and the whole place just lifted," O'Neill said. "You could sense the confidence come right back into the team. To get the late goals was just a dream."

Sunderland's fans were elated after only their third league win this season and O'Neill added: "It is hard when you are playing here and wanting to please people and win the game. You will get a feeling of frustration and angst but I thought the crowd were fantastic.

"It was surreal. I'd have given a lot just to get the three points. It only gives us a win and we have got a million miles to go but, in terms of restoration of confidence, it is very important.

"I'm just ecstatic and, if the crowd feel half as good as me, they will be pretty happy."

Asked if the joy of victory had provided what O'Neill had been missing during his 16-month absence from the game since leaving Aston Villa, he said: "In abundance."

O'Neill also praised the persistence of his players. He commented: "I think they are really genuine. They want to play and they were playing under pressure but they tried to play and tried to please people. I thought they were terrific just to keep going the way they did."

The Northern Irishman handed starts to Connor Wickham and Titus Bramble and admitted he wants to give players a chance, even if they have not been in the first-team picture recently.

But O'Neill admitted: "The problem is that you're looking to see the strengths and weaknesses of players but this is a league that's very unforgiving.

"You can't put four or five players in and have a look. The league's too strong for that."