From The Durham Times: O'Neill Can't Kick Winning Habit

Arsenal past and present but both deadly

It was my turn to have the privilege to put some words in print for our good friends over at The Durham Times this week talking all things SAFC, looking back at Wednesday's FA Cup victory over Middlesbrough, Nicklas Bendtner's on going off-field misdemeanors and of course yesterday's clash with Arsenal.

The best way to peruse our ramblings is of course to pick up the paper itself every Friday for your fix of local news, sports and all that jazz for less than the price of, well something thats still pretty cheap not as cheap as it used to be from all good newsagents. Or you can head on over to their website here.

Failing all of that you can stick with us here on Roker Report and join us after the jump...

Martin O'Neill just can't kick that winning habit at the moment as Wednesday evening saw his Sunderland side survive another gruelling encounter with Middlesbrough and emerge victorious. Whilst not one for the purists at least the neutrals had the constant reminders of Fabio Capello's resignation from the England hot seat to keep them entertained as the coverage of the game was more than a little distracted by the news coming out of London. It was all eyes on the Riverside however when yet another goal hand selected from the top drawer by our favourite little ginger, Jack Colback, broke the tedium and nearly the net. The build up to the goal itself was simplicity at
its best as Fraizer Campbell nodded a lofted pass from John O'Shea into the path of young Colback who unleashed a piledriver into the top corner - lovely stuff.

In the second half the inevitable ‘Boro retaliation materialised and they were duly awarded for their endeavours. Michael Turner, who up until this moment, had been in nose-bleed territory more times than I was comfortable with, making a number of expeditions into the oppositions penalty area, completely misjudged the flight of Main's
headed pass to Jutkiewicz who dutifully dispatched his shot past a helpless Mignolet.

Extra time was required to separate the two sides and Sunderland finally restored their advantage when Stephane Sessegnon capitalised on a loose ball following a blocked shot from substitute Connor Wickham and drilled the ball home. Our Benin wizard had a frustrating evening but as has been the case more times that not since O'Neill's
arrival he was still able to come up with a telling contribution in the end. Worryingly however he did appear to pick up a knock during proceedings, hopefully it is nothing serious as we would severely miss him tomorrow afternoon.

Following the final whistle the gaffer professionally sidestepped any suggestion that he may be in consideration for the newly vacant role with the English FA, a position which is pretty much Harry Redknapps for the taking in reality. Such has been O'Neill's impact since his return to management it was inevitable that his name would appear on
the bookies shortlist albeit at relatively long, unappealing odds. A far better candidate for the job in my opinion would be a certain Alan Pardew who has worked his own miracles up the road and surely must be looking for a new challenge...

The self-proclaimed greatest striker on the planet Nicklas Bendtner found himself in hot water with the constabulary yet again this week. The Danish striker, who is currently sidelined with a mangled face, pleaded guilty having been caught putting his Porsche through its paces and smashing the speed limit in Newcastle His boss back in
London must be impressed with the extensive resume of extra-curricular activities the young man has put together since his move North which currently stands at one brawl, criminal damage, speeding and begging for a free pizza.

Having successfully negotiated the tie with Middlesbrough we now have the pleasure of Mr. Bendtner's parent club for the next few weeks with Saturday's Premier League fixture providing a dress rehearsal for the FA Cup fifth round tie with Arsenal a week later, our first involvement in this stage of the competition for seven years. Arsene Wenger will no doubt have been delighted that Wednesday's game went into extra time and you have to be concerned about how much the extra exertion took out of some already tired legs before tomorrow's clash with the side who scored seven goals in their last outing.

Robin Van Persie made history when the two sides met earlier this season, scoring the fastest ever Premier League goal, taking just 29 seconds to carve open our defence at the Emirates in October. Of course that was a Steve Bruce Sunderland side, one with worryingly little concern for tactics, as apposed to the well drilled machine
O'Neill has began to mould since his arrival. So well drilled in fact that Sunderland have kept an impressive run of clean sheets in the last three league games at the Stadium of Light, a fourth would equal our best run since December of 2001.

Needless to say Saturday will be a stern test for O'Neill's side as, despite having "suffered" a turbulent season to date, Arsenal still have players capable of winning any game, especially in the final third. Sunderland can however take solace in the fact that history is in the Black Cat's favour as Arsenal have failed to leave the North East with all three points from any of their previous three visits. However you fear that this may be one match too many. Momentum can only take us so far before the fatigue becomes more of a telling factor. Although it wouldn't be the first time that O'Neill has conjured up a seemingly impossible result if we were to come away with our share of the spoils.

DAVID BOYLE

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