Sunderland V West Brom at Stadium of Light : Match Preview
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O'Neill acknowledges Premier pressures
Martin O'Neill has admitted life as a Barclays Premier League manager is a constant worry.
The 60-year-old Sunderland boss was able to breathe a little easier on Sunday evening after watching his side secure just a second league win in 19 attempts with a 3-1 victory at Fulham.
O'Neill, whose arrival at the Stadium of Light a fortnight or so short of a year ago sparked such joy, had found himself under mounting pressure after a poor run of results with some of his more disgruntled critics suggesting that the time might have come for him to go.
However, at the end of a week during which Chelsea counterpart Roberto di Matteo lost his job, O'Neill was able to look back on a difficult period with a wry smile as he prepared for Saturday's home clash with high-flying West Brom.
He said: "Somebody said to me, 'How come you don't put on any weight?', and I answered, 'I just worry for everyone'. It's no problem.
"You have to realise that during the course of the season, there are going to be periods where things are not going so well and you have to try to come out of them.
"There are other periods where you think you are going very well and looking forward to every single game that's coming up. You have to take a wee bit more balanced view of it.
"It's the season that counts ahead, it's where we end at the end of the season. Di Matteo has just lost his job - three and a half weeks ago, you would have said it was absolutely impossible."
O'Neill will welcome Craig Gardner back from suspension.
The 25-year-old, who has played at both full-back and in midfield this season, is available again after serving a one-match ban for reaching five bookings.
O'Neill admitted "one or two" players are battling against knocks, but declined to name them, but midfielder Lee Cattermole (knee) and full-back Phil Bardsley (hamstring) returned to action in the 3-1 win at Fulham on Sunday, while keeper Keiren Westwood (thigh) was able to take a seat on the bench.
Steve Clarke believes West Brom have the strength in depth to cope with their forthcoming schedule and then the loss of Peter Odemwingie and Youssouf Mulumbu to African Nations Cup duty.
The Baggies are on the crest of a wave after defeating Chelsea last weekend to climb into fourth spot in the Barclays Premier League.
They now face successive away games with the Black Cats and Swansea ahead of next weekend's home clash with Stoke before Odemwingie and Mulumbu depart in January to link up with with Nigeria and Congo respectively.
But, even allowing for the current absence of injured duo goalkeeper Ben Foster (groin) and midfielder Mulumbu (hamstring), head coach Clarke is confident Albion can cope. Clarke said: "From day one, I've been delighted with the players I've got, that we've got players to cover all the positions.
"Over the next five or six weeks we are going to see the squad tested to the maximum. It is a demanding week coming up for the players and the squad will need to step forward and be counted this week.
"But I've been saying all season I've got a good squad, a big squad, and they've shown over the 12 games so far that when they come in, they are ready to play.
"We can cover for any loss at this moment in time. The squad is in good shape. I also think we've got the players to cover the loss of Peter and Youssouf in January."
Central defender Gareth McAuley and on-loan Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku will return.
McAuley has recovered from a hamstring injury suffered on international duty with Northern Ireland while Lukaku was ineligible to face his parent club in Albion's 2-1 win last weekend.
But midfielder Youssouf Mulumbu is ruled out with a tight hamstring sustained against the Blues and keeper Ben Foster is absent for a third successive game with a groin problem.
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