AN OPTIMISTIC Martin O'Neill last night insisted he can lead a Sunderland revival and bring brighter times to Wearside despite a frustrating start to his first full season in charge.
The Black Cats head to Everton today in dire need of recording only their second win at Goodison Park in more than two decades to give the campaign a much-needed kickstart.
One win from their last 17 Premier League matches – dating back to last season - has seen them drop too close to the relegation zone for comfort after their first nine games of the season.
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The situation has been made worse by the fact they looked incapable of scoring goals. It is now more than eight hours of football since O'Neill witnessed one of his own players find the net.
And in their last two games at the Stadium of Light – a Capital One Cup defeat to Middlesbrough and league game with Aston Villa - supporters have greeted the final whistle with jeers and boos.
But O'Neill, who took over from Steve Bruce approaching a year ago with the club struggling similarly to where they are now, still firmly believes he can lead the good times to the club.
“The one thing I do have, I think, is a little bit of spirit and plenty of determination and I’ve got a load of enthusiasm,” said O'Neill. “It would mean a lot to me to make this a fairly decent football club.
“I’ve got a lot of self-belief not to be knocked off course here by a couple of results. I’ll put everything into it, anyway, and I’ve got absolutely no doubt that it’ll be good.”
He added: “This football club is my responsibility. It’s up to me to try to build a team. On that particular morning against Blackburn (his first game in charge) we dropped into the bottom three and I knew we had a bit of a job on.
“We are trying to improve the team, if we can, but it just takes a little bit of time. By hook or by crook I intend to make this team one the supporters are genuinely proud of and feel as if they have a chance of competing. It’s not overnight - I have not completed a season yet - but I intend to do that.”
When asked if he thought he would be given time to lead a turnaround by Sunderland's owner Ellis Short, he simply responded by saying: “I really wouldn’t know, but at least let me finish the season!”
When O'Neill took over a lot was made of the fact he grew up in Northern Ireland supporting Sunderland, but he thinks his childhood love for the club should not distract him or the supporters from the task he faces.
“We should take away this idea about Charlie Hurley being my boyhood hero and all that,” said O'Neill. “When I came here first of all, I wish I hadn’t supported the team, from that viewpoint.
“It's about the job now. If this situation continues when we’re just treading water or are in serious difficulty every year, I’m sorry, what’s the point me doing it? What’s the point?
“You could get anybody else in to do it. I intend to try to change it, but it will not happen overnight. I can promise you it won’t. The greatest living manager in the game has had 26 years at Old Trafford and he (Sir Alex Ferguson) will tell you that it doesn’t happen overnight. By the same token, I don’t want Sunderland supporters to be waiting a decade for it.
“People have asked me about the history of the club and how people can feel despondency so very very quickly, but if that’s been the case for about 100 years, then please, just give me a couple more months! I’m sitting here now and I’ll put a sign out: we WILL compete.”
Sunderland have an injury worry concerning right-back Phil Bardsley, but O'Neill's biggest problem is how to get his full team ticking again – like they did in the first few months of his reign.
A lack of goals and overall threat is the real problem, although the Sunderland boss is focused on things turning around, even if it takes time.
“A few weeks ago when Steven Fletcher was scoring I didn’t think a lack of chances was a major problem because it was very early in the season and we’d be able to rectify it with other people scoring,” said O'Neill, whose side have drawn 11 of the 17 match run of just one win.
“I’m sitting here today in early November 2012 and I hope that in a couple of seasons we’ll have really strong team. I want to have a side here that not only I’m proud of, but that is also competing; and I don’t mean invariably competing, I mean being as strong as Everton are, for instance. I think that would be a reasonable model for us to try and look at.”