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SUNDERLAND: O'Neill backs Graham to beat the boo boys
DANNY Graham has battled against the odds for the majority of his career, so Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill is confident the striker will successfully shrug off the negativity that has accompanied his deadline-day move to Wearside.
Graham completed a £5m switch from Swansea City on Thursday, less than 48 hours after he had been booed onto the field at the Stadium of Light as he made his final substitute appearance for the Swans.
The Gateshead-born striker has never hidden the fact he was raised as a boyhood Newcastle United fan, and with memories of Michael Chopra's unsuccessful spell in red-and-white fresh in the mind, some supporters have questioned the wisdom of signing a player with ties to Sunderland's fiercest rivals.
O'Neill is adamant Graham will win over the doubters, though, and cites the 27-year-old's unorthodox route to the top as proof of his strength of character.
Graham was still playing for Northern League side Chester-le-Street Town at the age of 17, and was forced to rebuild his career at League One Carlisle United following his release from Middlesbrough.
"I haven't talked to him often enough about his football journey, but other people have told me about him and you get the feeling he has had to fight all the way," said O'Neill, who will include Graham in the squad that travels to Reading this afternoon.
"Initially, he was told he was not good enough to play in the leagues. After that, he dropped down, went to Carlisle, started to do okay and found his feet at Watford, and moved on and had a great season at Swansea, which stood him in good stead. He is not easily put off by someone telling him he can't do something.
"He has some experience, scored goals last season and he wants to prove a point, and all those attributes I find pretty nice.
"Ultimately, how he does for the club will determine everything else, but I really have no doubts that he will score goals and prove a great buy.
"To be honest, we have a number of players who grew up Middlesbrough or Newcastle United fans. I'm sure Lee Cattermole might never have considered playing for Sunderland, but it can happen."
Nevertheless, as Graham prepares to make his Black Cats debut this afternoon, it is hard to remember anyone who has had to overcome such a recent and intense display of dislike from his own supporters.
Much of the vitriol was a response to an interview in a Watford fanzine where Graham revealed his support for Newcastle and claimed he would prefer to play for non-league Gateshead than join Sunderland.
Should the comments, which were always intended to be light-hearted in nature, retain any relevance today? Surely not. But the potential impact of a negative fans' response cannot be ignored, and O'Neill admits he feared for the future of his main January deal when he drove away from the Stadium of Light on Tuesday evening.
"It was a thought," he said. "He wanted to come and at that stage we were still trying to agree a fee. Thankfully, it (the booing) didn't put him off and he was very pleased to come."My heart didn't sink - I was more concerned about our own performance, my own team. I didn't give it a great deal of thought at that stage, it was only afterwards where you start to think about it and worry it might have an influence on him.
"It doesn't have an influence on me. I feel he will be given every chance here and his performances will determine everything."
Graham became Sunderland's third January signing when he put pen to paper on Thursday, following hot on the heels of Alfred N'Diaye, who completed a £3m switch from Turkish side Bursaspor, and Kader Mangane, who is on a season-long loan from Saudi Arabian side Al-Hilal.
O'Neill had spoken of the need to strengthen his squad prior to the transfer window opening, and the Northern Irishman is satisfied with his efforts in the last four weeks.
"I am pleased with our business," he said. "When Alfred learns the game and what is expected of him, which might be a bit different to his previous club, he will be excellent for us.
"Mangane, if and when he gets an opportunity, I am sure will prove some value as well. Danny will do well and score a few goals, which can only help."