O'Neill: City win Sunderland's best yet
Martin O'Neill has hailed Sunderland's 1-0 victory over Manchester City on Wednesday as their best performance of the season so far.
The Black Cats moved up to 13th after Adam Johnson's strike early in the second half secured the club their third win in four games. Despite City dominating possession, O'Neill felt his side created more clear-cut chances than the Premier League Champions.
But he was wary of claiming Sunderland had turned the corner in terms of form, and warned that they still have a long way to go before securing the league position they are capable of.
"What I would say is that considering the opposition we faced, this was our best performance of the season," he said. "We'd taken a bit of confidence from winning the game against Southampton but we knew that against City there would be times when we would have to play without the ball and would have to defend strongly and we did both of those very well.
"Yet we also carved out some great chances in the game. I thought we played really well, not just defensively. Someone put it to me earlier that we had had the better, cleaner-cut chances in the game, despite City's pressure and I wouldn't disagree with that.
"Three wins out of four is great but we still have a long way to go. The win over City gives us some points and a day or two of respite. We have a few more points on the board which is great and now we have to look at keeping going. The crowd were right with us and they were terrific all afternoon.
"It gave us a lift to know we'd taken a couple of thousand fans to Southampton just before Christmas. And the supporters followed that up with tremendous backing against Man City. We felt they would be behind us and they were and it is a great help to the players when they are as loud and supportive as they have been."
Although Steven Fletcher was unable to add to his eight goal tally for the season, the former Burnley and Wolves striker still impressed O'Neill who described his contribution as 'fantastic'. "He is scoring very important goals for us and he has been absolutely splendid since he arrived," O'Neill added. "He has done fantastically well for us and I am delighted for him. I'm not so sure that he's scored an unimportant goal for us. His contribution has been fantastic so far.
"It's important we keep him fit and well. He needs a bit of help. John O'Shea said that the other day, but it's not something we're not aware of. Of course, that's important. I didn't realise he had overtaken Tevez [in the goalscoring charts].
"I know he doesn't start every game for Manchester City but they create so many chances that you would think that any one of their forwards would be, possibly, in double figures by this time. It's quite amazing, because they are a really fantastic side and you feel, let's be fair about it, make many more chances during each game than we would do, simply because of their talent. So for Steven to score as many goals as he has done here is pretty exceptional. It is a great achievement."
Meanwhile, Adam Johnson echoed the sentiments of his manager, believing his side could easily have scored more against the Premier League champions and furthered their misery. A former City player, Johnson also feels the script for him to net the winner had already been written prior to the game.
He said: "Without a doubt, that's the highlight ... although there haven't too many so far to be honest! But from the team's point of view and for who we've just beaten and everything that goes with it regarding me, it was definitely the highlight. The crowd were so loud from the very start. We pressed and got them behind us and that's what we need to do here. We need to show the fight we showed yesterday. It's important anytime to get three points, but it just makes it a little better with the opposition.
"Harty is probably the best keeper in the world and I've seen him save them many a time. I cut inside and saw Harty leaning towards the far post. I thought he'd saved it and it had gone around the side of the post rather than in the net. I couldn't see the ball because he was covering it.
"But when the crowd cheered, I knew it was in. It all happened so quick. It's crazy how football works. I scored the equaliser for City at the Stadium of Light three years ago and now to score the winner for Sunderland against City was in the script I suppose.
"We could have scored more goals. There were times towards the end where we defended for our lives. But that's what you've got to do in the Premier League, no matter who it's against. Whoever City are playing, they going to have chances and create things with the players they've got. I know Simon made a couple of great saves, but we gave them as good as they gave us. We're delighted to get the win and the lads deserve a lot of credit."