Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

O'Neill's Grounds for New Optimism; Manager Now Has Grounds for Hope

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

O'Neill's Grounds for New Optimism; Manager Now Has Grounds for Hope

Article excerpt

MARTIN O'Neill believes that a Stadium of Light rejig has improved Sunderland's chances of finally making home advantage count against neighbours Newcastle United, writes STUART RAYNER. The teams meet tomorrow at a stadium which has been a happier derby-day hunting ground for the Magpies than the Black Cats. Sunderland have beaten Newcastle once there since it opened in 1997, extending a miserable sequence to one home win in 32 years.

That record surprised boyhood Sunderland fan-turned manager O'Neill (pictured right) when presented with it this week.

"Good Lord, is that right?" he exclaimed. "I can't give you an answer why that is at this moment.

"About an hour ago I was really looking forward to it... Can somebody give me a drop of whisky in my water now?!" Joking aside, O'Neill has taken steps to improve Sunderland's home form generally by rubber-stamping a plan to relocate visiting supporters.

Instead of the south end, Newcastle fans' vantage point for the 1.30pm kick-off will be in the north stand's top tier.

"I do think it makes the difference," commented O'Neill. "I did it at (previous club Aston) Villa, although I think the idea had already been thought about (at Sunderland). "I did endorse it and I think it made a really big difference to Villa. "A ground like Sunderland is really atmospheric when the crowd get behind you. "I think Villa, the kind of ground it is, had a similar feeling when you have got fans behind both goals and there's noise emanating from that. "It is less intimidating for your goalkeeper, for a start. He's not under severe pressure. And of course, if we're ever involved in a League Cup or FA Cup penalty shoot-out, we'll have it at both ends!" Sunderland have played three games with the new layout - one a League Cup tie against League Two Morecambe - and O'Neill has been encouraged. …

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