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Mar 20, 2012

O'Neill feared the drop

Martin O'Neill has revealed he expected a tough battle against relegation when he took over at Sunderland.

Sunderland were hovering above the drop zone when O'Neill replaced Steve Bruce in December, and after watching the team capitulate at Wolves he believed he would have a tough job on his hands.

But the Black Cats hit the ground running in O'Neill's first game in charge when Sebastian Larsson hit an injury-time winner against Blackburn, and they very quickly became the form side in the division.

On Tuesday evening, Sunderland travel to Ewood Park in the return fixture and will move back up to eighth with a victory, within two points of Liverpool and seven of North East rivals Newcastle in sixth, which could yet earn a Europa League place.

He said: "It's a completely different outlook from my first game. We should now start to look up the table a wee bit. I was genuinely fearful for our position back then.

"I'd been at Wolves and watched the game [when Sunderland lost 2-1 to two late goals after Steve Bruce's sacking], and watched us take the lead, but I knew from the minute we missed the penalty that we might lose the game. You just felt it.

"And of course they lost that match, and Wolves went on to 14 points and we were stuck on 11. They [Wolves] have not moved on greatly since then and if we'd had another loss, particularly at home to Blackburn, they would have shot up the table and that would have really concerned us.

"I'll go in a lot less nervous than I did at the time - though I'll still be nervous, knowing me. It was such a big game for us, which obviously we wanted to win.

"With 37 points on the board, I'd love to have 40 just to be safe - 37 might keep teams up. With 10 games to go, if you'd said to me with 11 points on the board before Blackburn, if you'd given me 37 I'd probably have rushed out and taken it."

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