Rids’ North End aim

Midweek Sport - - TV GUIDE - By GRA­HAM CHASE

ARTIN O’NEILL is a foot­ball ge­nius… ap­par­ently. The speccy Ul­ster­man has been linked to just about ev­ery top job go­ing since that day, 17 months ago, when he spat the dummy and walked out on Villa.

That, let’s not for­get, was five days be­fore the sea­son kicked off. As­ton Villa have stum­bled along like a Satur­day night drunk ever since.

Now the jumpy lep­rechaun is be­ing billed as the man to guide Sun­der­land to the pot of gold at the end of the rain­bow.

Why? He won pro­mo­tion and a cou­ple of cups at Le­ices­ter. And he was pretty good at Celtic too (although Gor­don Strachan’s record was bet­ter).

O’neill also clocked up three sixth-place fin­ishes at Villa Park.

What puz­zles me is why this qual­i­fies him for God-like sta­tus.

He was backed big-time at Villa – to the tune of £120mil­lion.

That’s the stuff of dreams for David Moyes, who spent half that fig­ure dur­ing O’neill’s time in the Mid­lands yet he’s taken Ever­ton to fifth place and an FA Cup fi­nal dur­ing his Good­i­son reign.

Per­haps ex­pec­ta­tion plays a part for old Marty. O’neill has been great when he’s man­ag­ing the un­der­dog and fans with lower ex­pec­ta­tions don’t mind his hoof-ball style, ei­ther.

Does that in­clude Celtic? Yes, yes it does. O’neill smashed a sit­u­a­tion which had al­lowed Rangers to clock up 12 ti­tles in 14 years. No-one was too ar­sed about style. Handy, as teams coached by O’neill gen­er­ally have very lit­tle of it. he gen­eral rule is: sign man-moun­tains. Play it long. That’s it. It seems bizarre Sun­der­land have re­placed one man­ager blasted for be­ing back­wards when it comes to tac­tics with an­other who doesn’t seem to know much bet­ter. O’neill’s ap­proach has hardly changed since Matt El­liot was lump­ing it up to Emile Heskey (be­low).

At­ten­dances at the Sta­dium of Light have slumped to 40,000 – 9,000 be­low ca­pac­ity. Will O’neill’s bird-both­er­ing foot­ball bring them back? Prob­a­bly not.

And let’s get this straight, Sun­der­land fans are de­mand­ing.

As they’re just one point off the rel­e­ga­tion zone, task one will be Premier League saftey.

But soon af­ter it will be Europe and tro­phies. Ex­pec­ta­tions will be as high as the balls O’neill will be in­struct­ing his cen­tre-halves to play.

The small mat­ter of hated ri­vals New­cas­tle fly­ing high doesn’t help mat­ters.

But the word is Black Cats owner El­lis Short won’t be shelling out much dough af­ter back­ing Bruce with big bucks.

That said, a glance at O’neill’s trans­fer track record sug­gests that could be a bless­ing.

This is the man who blew £10m on Cur­tis Davies, £8.5m on Nigel Reo-coker and £4m on Mar­lon Hare­wood.

Old-school O’neill has been a “play your best 11 ev­ery week” boss. Un­for­tu­nately for him, it’s not the 1970s. Foot­ball is faster and the sched­ule is re­lent­less.

O’neill’s Villa sides burnt out in the sec­ond half of the sea­son time and again. Throw in the squad O’neill has in­her­ited and you can see why Sun­der­land fans should leave the cham­pagne on ice.

Seb Lars­son – a right winger – is their top scorer with four.

“Ev­ery sin­gle game is im­por­tant. The Premier League has be­come the holy grail of foot­ball,” said O’neill at the week­end.

Let’s pray for Sun­der­land fans’ sake that Martin O’neill is the mes­siah, rather than the myth. PETER RIDS­DALE claims Pre­ston should be in the Premier League af­ter be­ing ap­pointed as chair­man of the League One club.

He takes over from Mau­rice Lind­say, who stood down from his role at Deep­dale on health grounds.

Rids­dale re­ceived plenty of crit­i­cism dur­ing his spells at Leeds and Cardiff and was most re­cently at League Two Ply­mouth.

He said: “Pre­ston is a club that has an in­cred­i­ble her­itage, a large and loyal sup­porter base and a club that, frankly, ought to be com­pet­ing to join the Premier League rather than play­ing in League One.”

WEAR WE GO: Gib­son and Cor­luka are among O’neill’s tar­gets

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