sport

O'Neill relishing Anfield trip

Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill will head for Anfield on Wednesday night determined to extend an impressive record.

The Black Cats will bring down the curtain on a difficult set of festive fixtures at Liverpool having won at Southampton and, memorably, at home against Premier League champions Manchester City before Tottenham spoiled their run with a 2-1 victory at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.

However, while O'Neill acknowledges that the trip to Merseyside will be just as difficult as anything his side had faced over the holiday period, it will hold no added fears for him.

Anfield has proved a remarkably happy hunting ground for the Ulsterman over the years, with former clubs Leicester and Aston Villa having both won there.

Asked about his record at one of English football's most atmospheric venues, he said with a smile: "I've won almost every time.

"It's a surprise - with Leicester City, I think we won three consecutive times. I've done all right.

"We won with Aston Villa. We were also well beaten on one occasion with Aston Villa - I think we were beaten five and it could have been more.

"But the last time we visited there, we won.

"It's a great ground, it's very atmospheric. It's a great ground to play in and a great ground to visit and be there.

"For one or two of our lads, particularly the younger lads, it will be a great experience for us."

O'Neill's memory has served him well: the Foxes did indeed win in the league at Anfield in 1997-98, 1998-99 and 1999-2000 having drawn 1-1 on their first visit under the former Northern Ireland international.

Villa faired less well, losing 3-1 and 5-0 either side of a 2-2 draw, but O'Neill's last visit proved fruitful as Lucas Leiva's own goal and strikes from Curtis Davies and, from the penalty spot, Ashley Young secured a 3-1 win in August 2009.

Sunderland, who drew 1-1 at Anfield under former boss Steve Bruce on the opening day of last season, will run out to face a Liverpool side which bounced back from a sobering 3-1 defeat at Stoke on Boxing Day to win 3-0 at struggling QPR on Sunday.

They did so with manager Brendan Rodgers watching from home after reporting in ill before the game.

O'Neill's compatriot has endured a tough start to his reign, but his side currently lies in ninth place in the table and just five points adrift of the top six.

The 60-year-old said: "He's just new into the job, and it's a big task.

"That said, Liverpool last season won the League Cup, they were in the final of the FA Cup as well. And whatever you say about it, they have got one or two young kids coming into the side, but still have got loads of really good players at their disposal."

Sunderland have somewhat steadied the ship in recent weeks, with victories over Reading, Southampton and City either side of a 3-1 defeat at Manchester United having eased them five points clear of the relegation zone.

They will be without central defender John O'Shea tomorrow after he damaged a hamstring against Spurs, but will be able to call upon full-back Danny Rose, who was ineligible to play against his parent club at the weekend.

O'Neill said: "We are stretched a bit but that's only to be expected really at this time of the year, and we have to go again on January 2."