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O'Neill breathing sigh of relief after Liberty draw
MARTIN O'NEILL was satisfied to return to the North-East with a point from South Wales but thinks Sunderland can learn how to keep possession in the Premier League from Swansea City.
Despite taking the lead twice at the Liberty Stadium, the Swans pegged the Black Cats back to claim a draw and such was the balance of play the home team could quite easily have won.
Quite often Sunderland's failure to keep hold of the ball led to Swansea making a chance and Michu's second half equaliser stemmed from James McClean's clearance which dropped straight to Jonathan de Guzman.
Such moments are what O'Neill will take with him in to the next fortnight and he is looking for things to improve after the international break when Liverpool travel to the Stadium of Light on September 15.
"The main disappointment of the afternoon at Swansea might be that we wanted to regain possession and use it a bit better in the last 15 minutes but, like the game against Arsenal, we got a little bit tired ourselves," said O'Neill.
"When we had the ball we tried to do something spectacular with it when it wasn't there, and we allowed Swansea to basically come and camp in and around our penalty area. You are looking for trouble when that is the case.
"That is not the point though, and we are fine. Look, it is tough away from home - really tough. We have had two games away now, and we will be delighted to finally get to the Stadium of Light at some stage in the next four weeks!"
He added: "I don't care what anyone says - fitness is really important. Players will take a couple of games to get themselves fully wound up, and I knew that (Steven) Fletcher and (Stephane) Sessegnon would both tire after injuries.
"That puts a big onus on other players, but that said I am delighted with a point. Swansea played well, particularly when they went down to ten men and we found it tough. To get a point is good for us."
Sunderland - not thought to be looking to follow up initial discussions with Michael Owen about a return to the region - will assess the dead leg which forced skipper Lee Cattermole off seven minutes before half-time over the next few days. The hope is that it is not serious.
After claiming two points from Arsenal and Swansea from the first two Premier League games of the season, O'Neill is hoping none of his internationals return from country duty with injury problems.
He said: "It is a concern, no question about that. We have a number that will play, and you just have to hold your breath really that they come back safe and sound.
"But this break is an opportunity for us to try to get some real proper work now with Steven Fletcher - and I mean real physical training. He will do great for us, he has had a good start and when he is fully wound-up he will be a proper player."
Fletcher's first two goals for Sunderland were the perfect way to mark his Premier League debut for the club. He is already well on his way to his personal target of 12, which was his tally with Wolves last season.
But O'Neill wants more. He said: "I obviously missed that interview, but I think I shall have a word with him! If he thinks that 12 goals will get him, you know ... well, if he gets 12 and the rest of the team only get 12 between them, then we are in trouble.
"We didn't score enough goals last year in the side as a whole, and I obviously am hoping that steering clear of serious injury he can have a proper season for the club and himself."
That said, though, the Sunderland boss was delighted with the start made by Fletcher after his 12m switch from Wolves.
He took both goals like a predatory striker rather than a target-man, which has become more his trademark.
O'Neill said: "Naturally I was delighted for him, and delighted with him. With Steven and Adam Johnson coming into the football club there is a great euphoria, and rightly so.
"Steven has scored two goals when he is probably not really match fit. It was great to hear the crowd chanting his name, and I think he will do very well when he is properly fit. It was a real tough afternoon for us, and even when Swansea went down to ten men they kept the ball very well."