‘Coach’ O’Shea has bird’s eye view from the Sunderland bench
IN THE context of working towards his UEFA A coaching licence, John O’Shea had a perfect bird’s eye view of the action at Goodison Park.
Perched at the front of Everton’s archaic director’s box, O’Shea saw where Sunderland were falling short and how Dick Advocaat’s half-time tinkering proved integral to securing an enormous three points in the relegation battle.
But the lesson in tactical nuances was overshadowed by that gut-wrenching feeling of anxiety at watching what was always going to be a pivotal episode in Sunderland’s hopes of beating the drop.
When the skipper was caught on camera puffing his cheeks after Jermain Defoe gave Advocaat’s side an unassailable two-goal lead, it proved to be an appropriate image of that emotional rollercoaster which seems to accompany life following Sunderland.
Despite being ruled out of the trip to Everton with sore ribs, O’Shea was always going to venture to Merseyside with his team-mates to offer any advice or support which may have been appropriate.
Looking back on the afternoon a week or so on though, the 34-year-old admits a watching brief was a much tenser experience than actually participating in the relegation dogfight.
“It’s nerve-wracking,” said O’Shea, expected to return to the squad for tomorrow’s crunch clash with Leicester.
“I felt it would be good to go down and keep everyone calm and ready for the game.
“I was there if I needed to say something here or there, but the lads did brilliant.
“You’re looking at little things off the ball, just watching it like a coach almost.
“In the end it was brilliant and there was a lot of relief, but it wasn’t enjoyable!
“In the game you’re zoned into it, but when you’re watching it, it’s totally different.”
O’Shea is getting used to the emotional toll of fighting against relegation, with Sunderland involved in the battle against the drop for the third year on the spin.
Sweating on Premier League status is a noose hanging around the necks of Sunderland’s players which affects all aspects of their everyday existence.
And ex-Manchester United defender O’Shea admits it’s a very different kind of pressure to the one which accompanies life at the other end of the table.
“You watch the Champions League semi-finals during the week, but ultimately, all you’re thinking of is permutations and results (in the relegation battle),” he said.
“But like we’ve always said, it’s down to ourselves.
“Yes, it’s great if results go for you, but you need to get them yourselves, like they have done in the last few weeks.
“There’s a pressure, but mentally going for titles is a much nicer pressure.
“This one is all tension-filled.
“You do your work during the week in training, the manager has you well-prepared and you just hope to come out on top on a Saturday.”
Crucially, the anxiety doesn’t seem to get to Advocaat though, unlike predecessor Gus Poyet, who repeatedly aggravated his relationship with supporters by becoming increasingly erratic in his post-match comments towards the end of his reign.
While this is the ex-Holland manager’s first taste of a relegation battle in a hugely decorated career, Advocaat knows how to deal with different characters to get the most out of them.
O’Shea believes those man-management attributes have been a key factor behind Sunderland taking 10 points from Advocaat’s six games at the helm.
“The manager has experience of dealing with hundreds of players and what is best for them,” said the Republic of Ireland international.
“That’s the beauty of having someone like that for this situation.
“He knows what a player requires to get him going.
“But there won’t be much of a team talk needed for a game at home to Leicester to almost guarantee your survival!”
Ultimately though, Advocaat can only do so much.
Whether Sunderland stay up or not will be decided by those donning a red and white shirt.
Regardless of what third bottom Hull do at Spurs tomorrow, Sunderland need to win to have a chance of rubber-stamping their place in the top flight.
However, Sunderland have yet again come good at the business end of the season, with confidence growing on the back of successive Premier League wins for the first time all year.
“The resiliency has been there this season when you look at the amount of draws,” added O’Shea.
“But maybe there’s a bit more belief there as well now when you go into these games after you get the back-to-back wins.
“It’s key that we can continue with that belief tomorrow.”