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Steve Kean under mounting pressure with Scott Dann out and Lancashire Evening Telegraph calling for sacking

Meltdown at Blackburn: Injury crisis mounts, Shearer lined up to take reins… and even the local paper calls for Kean”s head!

Under fire: Steve Kean

Under fire: Steve Kean

The crisis at Blackburn deepened today as manager Steve Kean came under heavy fire once again.

The beleaguered boss – who has been tipped to be replaced by Rovers legend Alan Shearer – is already fighting to save his job with Rovers stuck in the drop zone going into Tuesday”s crunch match against relegation rivals Bolton.

Now he has been struck by the news that key defender Scott Dann is out until February.

And picking up the local paper would have hardly made Kean feel better as the Lancashire Evening Telegraph ran a front page editorial calling for him to go.

Kean, who spoke on Monday morning at a press conference, insists he will continue to fight for his future despite the mounting pressure and the imminent six-pointer that may decide his future.

He said: “I have spoken with the owners for 45 minutes yesterday. There was no suggestion of an ultimatum. We had a real good conversation.

“We are looking forward to the transfer window opening so we can try and get a couple in who can hit the ground running and make an impact.

“There is pressure tomorrow but we have to enjoy it. From the first minute there will be pressure. You have to show courage to accept it.”

Sack Kean and sack him now was the impassioned plea calling on Blackburn owners Venky”s to act before it becomes too late to salvage the club”s perilous season from an influential local paper.

Time to go: Monday

Time to go: Monday”s Lancashire Evening Telegraph

“Sack Kean now…”

Click here to read the Lancashire Evening Telegraph editorial in full

Rovers suffered their 10th defeat of the season after conceding an 89th-minute goal in the home reversal to West Bromwich Albion on Saturday.

The result left them just point above bottom side Bolton and four points from safety heading into the busy Christmas schedule.

The club face Owen Coyle”s strugglers on Tuesday night with the losing manager likely to lose his job, but the Lancashire Evening Telegraph has urged the club”s Indian owners to act before the match.

The paper said: “Saturday”s humiliating home defeat to West Bromwich Albion was the last straw following a disastrous run of results stretching back months.

“If Rovers do manage to pull off a positive result against Bolton, in our view, further procrastination could take place and that would be wrong because we believe the club has passed the point of no return.

“It is now surely clear that Kean has to go and one good result shouldn”t be enough to save him.

“We are also calling for owners Venky”s to start running the club the way it deserves to be run or to put Blackburn Rovers up for sale if they are not prepared to protect its proud tradition.”

Kean took the reins after the club sacked Sam Allardyce last December. The Scotsman was the club”s first-team coach before taking the step up to managing the senior side.

The Lancashire Evening Telegraph believes the job came too soon for Kean and that Venky”s were also to blame for not offering him the level of support he required.

Loud and clear: The fans have been airing their views at Ewood Park for weeks

Loud and clear: The fans have been airing their views at Ewood Park for weeks

Fan fury: The Rovers

Fan fury: The Rovers” faithful have made no secret of their desire for change

“Kean”s record of just seven wins from 37 league games tells its own story and, with managers ultimately judged on results, Venky”s have to take decisive action and change the manager now,” the paper said.

“They threw a managerial novice in at the deep end and have systematically failed to provide him with the support, investment and suitable structure, to turn their undoubted gamble into a success.”

Alan Shearer is the front-runner to take over as Blackburn manager as owners Venky”s consider ending Kean”s tenure in charge.

Shearer hasn”t returned to management after a brief spell in charge of another former club, Newcastle, at the end of 2008-2009 season.

Sportsmail understands Shearer is interested in taking the reins, despite Blackburn”s perilous position near the foot of the Barclays Premier League and the likelihood that he would have only a modest budget in the January transfer window.

As Venky”s consider their options, they may well be swayed by Shearer”s standing among Ewood Park patrons after he spearheaded Blackburn”s title success in 1995.

Kean is reeling from another body blow after confirming defender Scott Dann will be out for six weeks with a groin injury.

Big loss: Scott Dann will not play for up to six weeks

Big loss: Scott Dann will not play for up to six weeks

“We have suffered another blow because Scott Dann is out for six weeks,” said Kean. “He will have groin surgery.

“When you add that to Gael Givet, Ryan Nelsen and Michel Salgado, we are losing defenders at the moment, which is tough. But we have to face it up and crack on, although that isa tough one to take.”

The one piece of good news for Kean is the return of Junior Hoilett after a hamstring injury.

And Kean confirmed Gael Givet might be back in a fortnight after it has been decided he would have a procedure to rectify his irregular heartbeat.

“Gael is going to have a procedure,” said Kean. “He was in training yesterday and seemed quite well in himself. But it is something you have to take very seriously when his heartbeat goes up to 300 beats a minute.

“He had it once before in France. He also had it 18 months ago in training. But it has moved to a different chamber in the heart. It is a small procedure. He should be back within two or three weeks.”

Game over The paper has implored Venky

Game over The paper has implored Venky”s to act before it”s too late

South Africa cruise to victory against Sri Lanka in first Test

Philander makes light work of Sri Lanka as South Africa cruise to victory in first Test

Vernon Philander furthered his growing reputation as South Africa thumped Sri Lanka by an innings and 81 runs in the first Test at Centurion on Saturday.

Philander completed the wide-margin victory with his 10th wicket of the match as Sri Lanka were skittled for 150 to lose inside three days.

High fives: South Africa

High fives: South Africa”s Vernon Philander celebrates the dismissal of Sri Lanka captain Tillakaratne Dilshan

South Africa v Sri Lanka

Click here for a full scorecard

After taking five wickets in the first innings, Philander followed it up with figures of five for 49 as Sri Lanka”s batsmen capitulated for the second time in the match.

It was Philander”s fourth five-wicket haul, in just his third Test, and with Dale Steyn the 26-year-old is fast forming one of the most threatening new-ball partnerships.

After South Africa were eventually bowled out for 411 early on Saturday morning, when Mark Boucher edged behind off Chanaka Welegedara, Philander immediately got to work.

Easy pickings: Mark Boucher celebrates reaching a half century

Easy pickings: Mark Boucher celebrates reaching a half century

The right-armer removed Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara, both caught by wicketkeeper Boucher, with the new ball as Sri Lanka crashed to four for 37.

Boucher , who took six catches in the innings, was in the action again when Steyn located the edge of opener Tharanga Paranavitana”s bat before Jacques Kallis ran out Mahela Jayawardene.

The tourists” miserable start was made worse as Jayawardene was caught short attempting the run that would have made him the first Sri Lankan to reach 10,000 Test runs.

Thilan Samaraweera and Angelo Mathews briefly stopped the flow of wickets, in a 29-run stand, but Philander was in inspired form and he produced a delivery that left Mathews just enough to catch the edge and fly through to Boucher.

Four balls later Samaraweera followed, edging yet another catch to Boucher off Morne Morkel, to depart for 32.

The wickets continued to tumble before Philander wrapped things up when he removed the final two to complete his 10-wicket haul.

He first held on to a catch off his own bowling after Welegedara top-edged an ambitious slog before finishing matters when, fittingly, he had Rangana Herath caught by Boucher.

Daniel Sturridge is now in the big league – Jamie Redknapp

Rising Chelsea star Sturridge is now in the big league after display in City win

Getting the job done: Sturridge has impressed for Chelsea this campaign

Getting the job done: Sturridge has impressed for Chelsea this campaign

Gael Clichy is a very good full back, but he would have woken on Tuesday morning with scorch marks down the side of his face after being tormented by Daniel Sturridge.

Sturridge reminds me of Arjen Robben in Jose Mourinho”s conquering Chelsea team. He can go outside or inside, will charge at pace, panic defenders and, as we saw against Manchester City, he can change a game.

Losing 1-0 and heading nowhere, Chelsea needed a special player to drag them back into the match. You talk about moments in games – Sturridge created those moments. He set up the first and won the penalty for the second.

As Fernando Torres looks on from the bench, Sturridge has become an accomplished Chelsea forward – an attacking wide forward, playing with confidence and influencing big matches.

Head boy: The young striker is keeping 50m Torres out of the team

Head boy: The young striker is keeping 50m Torres out of the team

He looked like a player who thought he could; a swaggering belief in his own quality, although the word was that he would leave his best form on the training ground.

He needed the breakthrough on loan at Bolton (how they could do with him now) but has carried on that form into this season. And now into the big games after influencing results in the last nine days: Chelsea wins against Newcastle, Valencia and Manchester City.

At the start of the season, Sturridge would have started behind Nicolas Anelka, Didier Drogba and Torres in the pecking order. If they had clicked, he might have found himself out on loan again. Instead, Anelka is off to China and who knows what will happen next to Torres This is also good news for the England manager. And any future England manager…

Warming the bench: Torres has fallen behind Sturridge in the pecking order

Warming the bench: Torres has fallen behind Sturridge in the pecking order

Like Danny Welbeck, who benefited from a loan spell when he went to Sunderland last season (they, too, could do with him now), Sturridge has emerged as a talent.

Daniel

If the old outside-right position is where he will stay then he”s in direct competition with Theo Walcott for England. I”m a Theo fan and he has been involved in a lot of Robin van Persie”s goals this season, but Sturridge creates heightened competition.

Of these wide attackers, there are Sturridge, Walcott, Scott Sinclair and Welbeck, who can also play through the middle, as well as conventional wingers such as Ashley Young and Stewart Downing. Sturridge is the emerging player.

Exciting, dynamic, direct and a real threat. How will he react now to teams setting traps for him and preparing ways to stop him, such as doubling up That”s his next challenge, but he”s passing each test so far.

Amir Khan lands in UK and plots Lamont Peterson rematch revenge

I want my titles back! Dethroned Khan returns to plot Peterson rematch revenge

Amir Khan touched down on home soil and immediately declared talks are underway to stage a rematch with Lamont Peterson to avenge his bitter world championship defeat in Washington.

The Bolton fighter landed at Heathrow still seething from his controversial split decision dethroning on Sunday morning which saw him lose his WBA and IBF light-welterweight titles.

Subdued homecoming: Amir Khan arrives at Heathrow returning empty-handed following his controversial defeat to Lamont Peterson in Washington

Subdued homecoming: Amir Khan arrives at Heathrow returning empty-handed following his controversial defeat to Lamont Peterson in Washington

Although no longer a champion in name, both organisations allowed the 24-year-old to keep his straps but he is already planning to get them back for good.

Let me at him: Khan wants revenge against Peterson

Let me at him: Khan wants revenge against Peterson

He posted on Twitter: “Landed in uk safe and sound, still got the belts, the organisation let u keep them, rematch talks are happening. Thankyou for ur support [sic].”

Khan insists he will treat his defeat against Peterson as “a learning curve” as he plots his revenge in 2012 – believed to be in March.

Khan blasted referee Joseph Cooper’s deduction of two points and there were also question marks raised over the judges scoring of the fight.

Khan’s team have submitted official complaints to the relevant authorities but such action is likely to prove immaterial, with a March 31 rematch in Las Vegas thought to be in the pipeline.

Khan, whose team claim they were told unofficially he had got the decision only for Peterson’s hand to be raised, has already bounced back from defeat in his career when Breidis Prescott blew him away in less than a minute three years ago. And he has vowed to do the same after suffering his second professional loss.

“This is all a learning curve,” said Khan. “That’s just the character I am. I’ll come back stronger. Even Lamont was very shocked that he got the decision. I knew after the 12th round we had won the fight.

Man on a mission: Khan insists he will win his titles back after losing both his IBF and WBA straps

Man on a mission: Khan insists he will win his titles back after losing both his IBF and WBA straps

“But no excuses. People who were watching and who know what the fight was all about will know that I’ll come back stronger. That’s why I want the rematch straight away, just to prove to everyone.

“I’m here, I’m ready and I want my two titles back.

“Beating him will be great. He is the one now who will have to suffer. I’m going to work hard now and change things I did in the ring.”

Talks: Khan confirmed his team have enter discussions with Peterson

Talks: Khan confirmed his team have enter discussions with Peterson”s people in a bid to arrange a rematch in early 2012

He added: “It’s about how you come back from these fights.

“I’m a warrior. I’m strong, I’m still young and I’ve got a lot left in me. This is what boxing is all about, it’s about how you come back.”

Khan acknowledges his team’s official complaints are likely to fall on deaf ears but has called for referee Cooper to be punished.

“I wouldn’t let him do a world title fight again,” he said.

Enlarge Points of difference: The judges score card caused controversy in Washington

Points of difference: The judges score card caused controversy in Washington

“He has refereed 44 out of 51 in Washington and he comes from the city.”

Another bone of contention for Khan and his advisors is the fact they heard he had won the decision on Saturday, only for Peterson’s hand to be raised in victory.

He said: “One of the Golden Boy (Promotions) guys got the scoresheets and it said “Khan, Khan, Peterson’ and then the next thing it was “Peterson, Peterson, Khan”.”

New Zealand beat Australia by seven runs in Hobart

New Zealand hold nerve for dramatic first win in Oz for 25 years despite Warner stand

An inspired spell of fast bowling from Doug Bracewell propelled New Zealand to an unlikely victory in a thrilling finish at Hobart”s Blundstone Arena, despite a heroic maiden century from David Warner.

Australia fell just eight runs shy of their target of 241 after a last-wicket partnership worth 34 between Warner and Nathan Lyon. But Bracewell removed Lyon for nine to clinch the victory, capping a display in which he took six for 40. Tim Southee provided solid support as he took two for 77.

Rookie opener Warner finished unbeaten on 123, carrying his bat through the Australian innings, but it was not enough for his team.

Agony and ecstasy: New Zealand celebrate the wicket of Nathan Lyon

Agony and ecstasy: New Zealand celebrate the wicket of Nathan Lyon

Bracewell and Southee bowled unchanged after lunch and combined to remove the last eight Australian batsmen for just 74 runs either side of the break.

Bracewell had taken three quick wickets before lunch but Australia, on 173 for five, still looked to be in a strong position, particularly when Warner found the five runs he needed to post his maiden Test century early in the second session.

Together with Brad Haddin (15) he provided a steadying influence after the wobble late in the morning. But when Haddin went driving at a wide one and was caught at slip by Ross Taylor it triggered a collapse as Australia lost four wickets for seven runs, with Peter Siddle (2), James Pattinson (4) and Mitchell Starc (0) falling in the space of two overs.

Ton up: David Warner All in vain: Warner

All in vain: David Warner hit a brilliant century for Australia but his side still lost

Bracewell was finding significant movement through the air from the Southern end of Blundstone Arena and fellow right-arm quick Southee was doing an equally impressive job at the other end.

With Warner seemingly hampered by a back complaint during the morning session, he was forced to carry a huge burden after the break in first reaching his century and then trying to guide his side home with wickets tumbling at the other end.

His brave rearguard ended when Lyon was the last dismissed, bowled by Bracewell for nine.

Relief: New Zealand captain Ross Taylor celebrates the dramatic win

Relief: New Zealand captain Ross Taylor celebrates the dramatic win

Skipper Taylor sensed the time was right to attack after lunch with Southee introduced to the attack and aside from a tough chance that was dropped by Jesse Ryder from Siddle, his packed slip cordon did the business by snaring six catches in the Australian innings.

Lyon joined Warner at the crease with 42 required for victory and survived two reviewed LBW decisions as the pair chased what was becoming an increasingly unlikely victory.

But when Lyon was finally bowled, New Zealand celebrated their deserved victory mid-pitch while Lyon slumped to his haunches, the unbeaten Warner a solitary figure at the other end, no doubt wondering how his chanceless maiden Test century could end in such disappointing circumstances.

Review: New Zealand watch a video umpiring decision on the big screen

Review: New Zealand watch a video umpiring decision on the big screen

New Zealand captain Taylor admitted he “nearly had a heart attack” as Australia”s last pair threatened to deprive his side of a first Test win over their rivals since 1993.

The Black Caps prevailed by seven runs – their narrowest Test win, and equal seventh in the format”s history.

“They fought the whole way,” Taylor said afterwards. “We would have won by 40 runs out there against some teams but the way Lyon and Warner played, I nearly had a heart attack.

Out: Australia captain Michael Clarke is caught by Taylor off Doug Bracewell

Out: Australia captain Michael Clarke is caught by Taylor off Doug Bracewell

“Warner was outstanding. To come in in only his second match and control the game the way he did… we”ll be on the wrong side of a few hidings so I can”t feel too sorry for him, but he deserves a lot of credit for the way he batted.”

The 21-year-old Bracewell has only one more Test to his name than Twenty20 specialist Warner, and Taylor said: “I”m just stoked for Dougie.

“He bowled outstandingly well for a young guy, 21 and in only his third Test to get Ponting and Clarke and Hussey – that”s something to tell your grandkids about.

Six appeal: New Zealand fast bowler Bracewell forced the Aussie collapse

Six appeal: New Zealand fast bowler Bracewell forced the Aussie collapse

“The way (Peter) Siddle and (James) Pattinson bowled from that end – Dougie is probably 5kph slower than them but he”s a similar bowler. As captain you”ve got to go on hunches – I thought Doug would bowl well, I didn”t think he”d bowl that well.”

Taylor had just turned nine years old the last time New Zealand beat Australia, while their last win across the Tasman was in 1986.

Last man standing : Warner consoles Nathan Lyon (left) after his dismissal

Last man standing : Warner consoles Nathan Lyon (left) after his dismissal

And the captain said: “Rugby is our No 1 sport but any sport against Australia, winning in Australia, the New Zealand public enjoys.

“The New Zealand public knows that the New Zealand cricket team, when playing against Australia, is always the underdogs, but they don”t like it when we don”t show much fight. That”s what we didn”t do in Brisbane. We showed a lot of ticker today.”

Amir Khan looking forward to birthday bash

Birthday bash for king Khan as he squares up to Peterson

They say the gym is a liar. Hopefully, at least on this occasion, that is untrue.

Gnarled old pros will tell you that the more brilliant a boxer looks in training, the greater the risk of him peaking too early and struggling on fight night.

Amir Khan has to prove himself the exception to that rough-and-ready rule here on Saturday.

Brit of all right: Amir Khan takes part in the the official weigh-in

Brit of all right: Amir Khan takes part in the the official weigh-in

In his final public workout before defending his world light welterweight titles against Washington’ s own Lamont Peterson, the birthday boy from
Bolton was in such sensational form that gasps of astonishment were followed by spontaneous bursts of applause.

This from Peterson supporters in one of the deprived quarters of the United States capital where he grew up on the streets, homeless and hungry. They were astonished by the fruits of Khan’s dedication.

So unwavering is his mind that he says: ‘I’m so focused I didn’t even remember it was my birthday when I woke up Thursday morning. I only realised when my mother came into my room and gave me a kiss.

‘There were no gifts. I often fight around my birthday and the only present I want is my family around me.

‘It’s about calm concentration. I can see Lamont is a bit edgy but I never see the point in getting mad and crazy in the days before the fight. I just prepare myself.’

On the scales: Khan on the eve of his showdown with Lamont Peterson

On the scales: Khan on the eve of his showdown with Lamont Peterson

He does it so well that not only was thespeed of Khan’s work on the pads dazzling, but the power of his six-, seven- and eight-punch combinations frequently lifted his master trainerFreddie Roach off his feet.

Now 25, Khan looks bigger and stronger than ever. The tape tells a tale of physical similarity but Peterson, who took to the ring in a community centre immediately before, seemed almost frail by comparison. Perhaps that was an illusion but not even the American’s handlers could deny the heavier impact of Khan’s punching.

Peterson, who weighed in at 10st, a pound heavier than Khan, has been steeling himself to confront his opponent’s speed, saying: ‘I know Amir is very fast so I’m not going into a sprint race with him. That would be playing
to his strength.

‘I have a quick jab of my own but the key to my punching is timing. I truly believe I can take him out of his rhythm and set him up for the knockout.’

Showdown: Amir Khan and Lamont Peterson ahead of their world title fight

Showdown: Amir Khan and Lamont Peterson ahead of their world title fight

Brave, if optimistic, words. Khan admires 27-year-old Peterson for climbing out of the gutter of his childhood, dedicating himself to boxing and
developing into a credible world title challenger with only one defeat on his 29-fight record.

Thatloss came against Timothy Bradley, holder of the WBO belt which Khan was keen to add to his WBA and IBF titles but who declined the fight. Subsequently, Peterson proved his heart by climbing off the canvas to force a draw with Victor Ortiz, who went on to rough up Floyd Mayweather
before being controversially knocked out.

Khan says: ‘Lamont is first class but I’m coming into my prime and have all the tools to beat him.’

Roach, newly inducted into the Hall of Fame, agrees: ‘If Amir sticks to the game plan and stays off the ropes, he will win quite easily. But he does like a scrap and occasionally takes an unnecessary punch or two. When an opponent gets his attention he taps his gloves together. That’s always a
sign that something dramatic is about to happen. If he does that he will still win, but it will be more exciting.’

Tale of the tape

That prospect is expected to fill the 9,000 seats at the Walter E Washington Convention Center, where a healthy turnout by the local Muslim population should mean that Khan will not lack for support of his own.

Khan wants to make an emphatic enough statement to force a mega-fight with Mayweather when he moves up to welterweight next year. An explosive finish live on HBO here, as well as on Sky back home, would further enhance the growing reputation this side of the Atlantic of Britain’s 2004 Olympic silver medallist.

It would also support the contention of both Khan and Roach that he is already boxing at the elite level required to take on Mayweather. It certainly looked like it.

Peterson will be hoping that the gym was lying through its mouth-guard. He is likely to be disappointed as Khan inflicts either a stoppage or a thumping points victory.

Martin O"Neill wants Sunderland to play like Barcelona

O”Neill”s back with a vision: For his next trick he wants to build Sunderlona

Martin O”Neill is back. He is back, as he said, from “hibernation”, back from watching football for “pure enjoyment”, back to “pressure”, and on Friday morning he was back to having his tracksuit bottoms tucked into his socks.

Soon he will be leaping again, bouncing up and down touchlines.

It begins on Sunday: Sunderland v Blackburn. It could be a scuffle, but it is Martin O”Neill”s return.

Seeing the light: Martin O

Seeing the light: Martin O”Neill takes training

O”Neill is back talking eloquently about a game he has been in since he joined Distillery in 1971.

He once scored against Barcelona for the Irish League team; on Friday O”Neill mentioned Barcelona again, though not in that context.

He had been asked what, ultimately, he would like his new Sunderland team to be.

They sit 17th in the Barclays Premier League but O”Neill did not aim low.

“I always come back to the way Barcelona play and I think teams look to that,” he said. “It”s a long way in the future, but you”d love to keep that in the back of your mind and think you could eventually have a team that could come out and play like that.

“Over the course of time, people will probably throw that back at me.”

Building for the future: But O

Building for the future: But O”Neill is nothing but pragmatic about the task in hand

Considering O”Neill is now in charge of a squad captained by Lee Cattermole and who have scored 16 goals in 14 League games, he may not have to wait for the course of time for Barcelona”s name to be tossed back in his direction.

But the Stadium of Light as the Nou Camp It”s a thought. It”s a challenge. O”Neill knows that, the one-time law student is hardly a mug, and he did add: “Over the last couple of years, Arsenal have been very easy on the eye and it would be lovely to play a brand of football that would excite the crowd.

“But we need to win some football matches and I suppose at the moment pragmatism has to be the order of the day.”

Nou day dawns: Stadium of Light might see a new brand of football

Nou day dawns: Stadium of Light might see a new brand of football

He had already used the “back to basics” phrase and pragmatism is enough to be going on with at Sunderland.

Although the club are prosperous and secure compared to when O”Neill held discussions with Niall Quinn five years ago, the team and squad O”Neill has inherited are not.

In the summer of 2006 Sunderland had just been relegated with a record low of 15 points. Wearside was humiliated.

Having won promotion and achieved stability over the subsequent years, Sunderland are now back in a relegation battle.

The consensus is that O”Neill”s predecessor, Steve Bruce, “bought well” and Bruce has acquired some lively players in Stephane Sessegnon and Sebastian Larsson.

Plenty to play with: The perception is that Bruce left O

Plenty to play with: The perception is that Bruce left O”Neill a good squad

The Wearside club have been hit by key injuries, too, and a perception has developed that Sunderland are punching below their weight.

After all, they finished 10th in the Premier League last season.

But Sunderland may just be punching their actual weight.

They have won twice in those 14 games this season and, over the last 38 League games, have 38 points.

In May, Blackpool and Birmingham City were relegated with 39 points.

“You”re probably in a better position than me to judge whether Sunderland are in a false position or not,” said O”Neill.

“We have to address the goalscoring situation, obviously. Overall, we have just got to get at it.”

Earn your stripes: The boss says Sunderland need to start scoring goals

Earn your stripes: The boss says Sunderland need to start scoring goals

At his official unveiling on Tuesday, O”Neill had used the word “galvanic” to describe the effect the Sunderland crowd can have.

That is true, although Bruce might see it differently. But it is O”Neill”s previous in the galvanising department that attracted Ellis Short and Quinn and it is the jump-lead aspect of O”Neill”s personality which will be applied to Nicklas Bendtner, a young man with his own Barcelona complex.

Evidence suggests the 23-year-old Dane has an ego the size of Sweden. Bendtner is on loan from Arsenal for the season at no little expense. He has two goals so far.

At first glance Bendtner is not the type of character to whom O”Neill would be drawn, yet it is understood that, had the Irishman taken the West Ham job when it was offered, Bendtner was his first target.

“It”s paramount to get the best out of Nicklas,” said O”Neill. “He has a lot of natural talent but wasn”t always in the starting line-up at Arsenal.

“They have allowed him to come up here and it”s an important time for him. This season is one where he can come through and score some goals.

Natural talent: O

Natural talent: O”Neill is a fan of Bendtner

“He might have to adapt to a different style of play because Arsenal tend to have the ball all the time in the vast majority of matches, even against the best teams in the League. With respect, we might not have the ball as often as that.

“So he”ll have to adjust and re-adjust during the course of a game. Most importantly, of course, he has to get some goals.”

A niggling groin strain may prevent Bendtner even being on the pitch on Sunday, which is one reason why O”Neill was at Eppleton Colliery Welfare”s ground on Thursday night observing Sunderland”s reserves beat Manchester United”s 6-3.

O”Neill saw 20-year-old Sunderland-born Ryan Noble score four.

In wind-whacked Co Durham the 59-year-old manager was in his new club coat and hat, getting first sips of what it means to manage Sunderland.

“A couple of younger lads came up to me looking for autographs as I was coming out of the reserves game and that was very pleasing,” O”Neill began.

“Then an older man, probably about my age, shouted: “You need to win some games, son”. Son I think I was older than him, but I got what he was saying immediately.”

Bruce felt that edge keenly and it is there – Quinn was once spat at outside Roker Park by a Sunderland fan when the former striker was playing for them.

But it is not unique.

O”Neill has edges, too; he will be happy to have them on display again. It is 19 months since his last Aston Villa team talk, for a match against Blackburn.

“I was thinking about how the game might have evolved during my time away and the answer is I probably don”t know.” he said.

“I”ve been watching a lot of football, but not live football. I pretty much went into hibernation for a while and watched a lot of football on TV and it”s not the same. Sunday (at Wolves) was a real eye-opener for me.

Eye-opener: O

Eye-opener: O”Neill (centre) facing the pressure again

“The previous week, I”d taken my daughter to watch Arsenal-Fulham. She likes her football and I”m hoping she comes up on Sunday. After three or four minutes, she said: “Isn”t it great to watch a football game where there”s no pressure”

“Little did she realise that, a fortnight later, she”d be throwing herself back into it again. It was great to see the game live and the matches I covered with ITV were great to get out and see live, but watching it again as a manager, rather than just watching it for pure enjoyment – that might tell you the difference.”

December on Wearside is not usually a time to come out of hibernation, but then football disturbs even its wisest participants.

As O”Neill concluded: “I”ve played Sunday over in my mind about 15 times and so far we”ve won every game. I”ve thought about lots of different things, but every time we end up winning.”

Steven Gerrard closes in on Liverpool comeback

Gerrard closes in on Liverpool comeback after two months out with ankle infection

Steven Gerrard was all smiles today as the Liverpool star edges closer to his making his comeback for the Reds.

The Anfield captain has struggled with injuries this season as the club attempt to break back into the top four.

Gerrard is currently sidelined with an ankle infection and last played in the draw with Norwich on October 22.

Good to be back: Steven Gerrard with Kenny Dalglish at Melwood

Good to be back: Steven Gerrard with Kenny Dalglish at Melwood

Ear, ear! Reina shows Premier League defences how to deal with Suarez

Ear, ear! Reina shows Premier League defences how to deal with Suarez

But he was seen laughing and joking with manager Kenny Dalglish on Friday morning ahead of his potential return this month.

Asked last month, Dalglish refused to put a date on Gerrard”s comeback date.

Dalglish said: “Like we”ve already said,we are delighted with the progress he”s making and we”ve said that we won”t put a date on his return – and we won”t put a date on it now. We are very happy with his progress.”

Watching brief: Gerrard has looked on from the sidelines while his ankle heals

Watching brief: Gerrard has looked on from the sidelines while his ankle heals

Yet, it seems Dalglish is now closer to finding out when his inspirational skipper will be fighting fit once again.

Meanwhile Jamie Carragher believes Liverpool”s mouthwatering Carling Cup semi-final tie with Manchester City will have an European feel to it.

“A lot of the people you speak to in the street say it”s a tough draw,” Carragher told Liverpoolfc.tv. “I”m looking forward to it. The second leg is going to be like a European night, especially if the first leg goes well.

Frustration: Gerrard hasn

Frustration: Gerrard hasn”t featured for the Reds since October

“But it”s similar to when we played Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final a few years ago. The other two teams were West Ham and Middlesbrough. People said you”d want to face them.

“But if we”d have got one of the lower league sides this year, with respect to them, you”d be expecting to face Man City in the final.

“So, if you want to win this competition you are probably going to have to beat Manchester City at some point anyway.”

Nemanja Vidic out for the season

Nightmare goes on for United with Vidic out for the season as Fergie prepares to enter sales

Manchester United have suffered a huge blow in their bid for the title after Sir Alex Ferguson confirmed captain Nemanja Vidic will miss the rest of the season.

Speaking on Friday morning, Ferguson revealed the centre-back will not return until next season after damaging his knee in Wednesday”s Champions League defeat against Basle.

Down and out: Vidic went down in agony after a coming together with Streller

Down and out: Vidic went down in agony after a coming together with Streller

Blow: United fear Vidic is out for the season

Blow: United fear Vidic is out for the season

Ferguson said: “We thought it was a bad one. He’s out for the season. It’s not unexpected but it’s still bad news.”

Ferguson admitted he feared the worst when Vidic first went down following a tangle of legs with Marco Streller.

He hoped it was just medial ligament damage and his captain would only be missing for a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, the worst case has now unfolded.

“I thought it was a bad one when I saw it,” said Ferguson.

“He sees the specialist on Monday to map out the progress of when he has the operation. It won”t be immediate because we have to let the swelling come down. It is a bit of a blow.”

The news is a major setback for the club as they attempt to catch rivals City in the race for the Barclays Premier League title – and it comes hot on the heels of their humiliating exit from the Champions League.

The loss of Vidic is likely to force Ferguson into the January transfer market.

He currently has Rio Ferdinand, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Jonny Evans available.

However, doubts remain over Ferdinand”s ability to withstand a full season at the top level, while Jones has been favoured in central midfield since impressing after his 16.5million switch from Blackburn in the summer.

United suffered another blow on Thursday when it emerged that England winger Ashley Young may have aggravated his broken toe against Basle.

Injury blow: Young faces another lay-off after leaving the pitch in the 64th minute

Injury blow: Young faces another lay-off after leaving the pitch in the 64th minute

Young had been out for a month with his toe injury and there are concerns that he faces another lay-off after leaving the pitch in the 64th minute.

United”s 2-1 defeat means they miss out on the Champions League knockout stage for the first time in six years and Ferguson met with chief executive David Gill on their return to assess a failure that could cost the club in excess of 20m.

One of the other topics likely to have been up for discussion was the possibility of signing reinforcements next month in the face of a mounting injury crisis.

Ferguson could be without nine first-team players for Saturday”s game at home to Wolves.

The mood around the club was said to be horrendous on Thursday as they came to terms with being out of the Champions League.

However, Ferdinand promised that they will swallow their pride at being relegated to the Europa League.

“We have to be prepared, it”s as simple as that,” said Ferdinand. “No matter what gets said, ridiculed ornot, we respect the tournament and will go in there to win it.”