Confidence is key for O’Neill

Andre Villas-Boas admits that Hugo Lloris has won the battle
with Brad Friedel to be Tottenham Hotspur’s first-choice
goalkeeper.

Lloris joined Spurs from Lyon before the summer transfer window
closed, but initially had to wait for his chance in the Premier
League as Villas-Boas kept faith with Friedel.

However, Lloris has started the last five league games, with
Villas-Boas confirming veteran keeper Friedel has accepted the
situation.

“Yes at the moment you have to say so,” said Villas-Boas when
asked if Lloris had won the battle to be No.1.

“It was difficult for Hugo at first. We recognise it was not
easy for him at that time. There were expectations for him to come
straight into the team.

“The transfer was completed just before the Norwich game in
August and Brad performed extremely well in that game.

“After that we gave a sequence of games to Brad, using Hugo more
in the Europa League, although we included him against Aston Villa
to give him experience of Premier League opposition. He was very
patient.

“I can see Brad coming back into the team because I certainly
respect what he has done for us.

“We are extremely happy with our goalkeepers’ competition. When
the decision was in favour of Brad, Hugo accepted it and now the
decision has fallen in Hugo’s favour, Brad accepts it.”

Villas-Boas, though, did confirm that another of his goalkeepers
– Heurelho Gomes – is likely to be leaving White Hart Lane in the
January transfer window.

The Spurs boss added: “We don’t doubt Gomes’ abilities but we
are looking for a possible solution in January to help him in his
situation.

“With Carlo Cudicini, we have four wonderful goalkeepers.”

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Any hope of the Black Cats following up their crucial win over
Reading by ending a barren run at Manchester United that stretches
back to 1968 was effectively ended when they fell two goals behind
after just 20 minutes.

Although Sunderland showed spirited resistance in the final half
hour, Frazier Campbell’s header was all O’Neill’s men had to show
for a 3-1 defeat that leaves them just a point above the drop
zone.

It is not a comfortable position to be in – and with Christmas
encounters with Manchester City and Tottenham looming, next
Saturday’s trip to Southampton is taking on ‘must-win’
proportions.

“It is almost inevitable and pretty natural that when a side is
trying to put a bit of form together, confidence is essential,”
said O’Neill.

“We scored an early goal against Reading on Tuesday and you
could see the confidence coming right back to the team.

“But if you concede two goals against anybody, particularly away
from home, you will have an uphill struggle.

“Against Manchester United we have made it much easier than we
could have done.”

O’Neill refused to take the easy option of regarding the Old
Trafford visit as a bonus game, even though he accepted few,
certainly not Manchester City, would have expected them to get
anything.

What they did get was another worry regarding top scorer Steven
Fletcher, who suffered a back injury in the warm-up that worsened
significantly during the first half and left the Scot unable to
come out for the second.

At least his replacement Connor Wickham produced a pleasing
performance.

The 19-year-old moved north from Ipswich for ?8.1million at the
start of last season but has found goals at the highest level
difficult to come by.

He has only one to his name and did not add to that tally
yesterday. However, Wickham caused a United defence bolstered by
the return of skipper Nemanja Vidic some major headaches, which
could be handy if Fletcher is ruled out for an extended period.

“Connor did very well,” said O’Neill. “There were encouraging
signs from him. He was trying to hold it up and bring other people
into play.”

Wickham was delighted with his contribution too as Sunderland
tried to complete an unlikely comeback.

“I always aim to create chances,” he told www.safc.co.uk.

“It’s just about getting enough people in the box to try and
finish them off.

“We know we could have reduced the deficit further – we had
chances and could have buried them.”