O'Neill prepared for 'tough season'
Martin O'Neill has conceded that Sunderland still have a mountain to climb this season, despite a convincing 3-0 win over Reading on Tuesday.
The Sunderland boss admitted his relief after the Black Cats were lifted out of the relegation zone, but he believes his side cannot get too comfortable with their league position.
"I just feel that this season will be really tough for us, I accept that," O'Neill said. "I kind of thought that anyway at the start of the year. I didn't want people starting to get carried away with it.
"From my own viewpoint, I just want to try with all my might to put a team together here that not only can we compete, but that a team that people would look forward to seeing play. But that's sometimes easier said than done."
Sunderland striker Steven Fletcher returned from an ankle injury and found the net in the 28th minute, although the 25-year-old was a very late inclusion to the side.
"Fletcher had done absolutely no work whatsoever," O'Neill told reporters. "When you were talking to me yesterday, I genuinely wasn't sure that he could play in the game. He came out this morning just to do a bit of a loosener and thought he wanted to give it a go.
"I personally thought if he could see it to half-time and just slightly into the second half, he would do great for us. He has been terrific for us, really terrific. You just feel that he is likely to get you a goal in there."
The win takes Sunderland into 15th spot, but they remain just one point clear of the drop, meaning a tough trip to Old Trafford this weekend could once again heap pressure on O'Neill.
For now, though, the Northern Irishman is relishing the positive signs shown by his attack, with James McClean and Stephane Sessegnon joining Fletcher on the score sheet.
"It was a great performance, very spirited," O'Neill told Sunderland's official website. "The early goal was very important because recently we've been chasing games and sometimes we've given ourselves mountains to climb.
"It was great to score early. I thought there were signs that James [McClean] is returning to the form we've seen from him before.
"In terms of the score line, Sessegnon's goal made it a fantastic win. That goal will be a boost to his confidence. He also showed signs of returning to that form he has previously had.
"The fans were absolutely terrific. Of course they were apprehensive and nervous about the game, but they were very supportive. If we can give that effort and commitment every week at the Stadium of Light the crowd will stay with us."
Brian McDermott's Reading missed the chance to reduce their six point gap from safety and the Royals boss was forced to defend his position at the club.
"Do I fear for my future? I don't have fear about it," McDermott said. "I have been in football for 30-odd years now and I know this club is in a far healthier position than it was a year ago, two years ago when we were starting League One in the face, three years ago.
"Where we are now as a club, we are in a far healthier position, so that's the most important thing for me, the club. I am just disappointed with the results. I have been used to winning games over a long period of time and we are not winning games."
Information from the Press Association was used in this report.