BORN-AGAIN Sunderland defender Matt Kilgallon is relishing life under Martin O’Neill – and wishes the new manager had arrived early.
But he says he is taking nothing for granted after finally establishing himself as a squad member, and insists that he and the rest of his team-mates must remember they are playing for their futures under the Northern Irishman.
After playing a vital role in Sunderland’s impressive performance at Man City’s Etihad Stadium fortress, Kilgallon said: “I just wish I could have had a chance before this manager.
“I don’t know what happened there, they just didn’t seem to want to give me a fair chance.
“But the gaffer has come in and given everyone a clean slate to work off, I just try to play as well as I can.
“I’ve got another year left on my contract but I have to play well in every game.
“I can’t think I can afford to have a bad game because the next time the team is read out I will not be in it.
“I have to focus on what I’m doing every game.”
Kilgallon got his chance during Sunderland’s injury crisis at the turn of the year, replacing Wes Brown as a sub in the 1-0 win over Manchester City and performed impressively enough to keep his place in victories over Wigan and Peterborough before injury forced him out in the game at Chelsea.
It was some comeback from a player who had become persona non grata under previous manager Steve Bruce and was expected to be propelled quickly out of the door even after the regime change.
But Kilgallon has been completely rejuvenated under O’Neill and on Saturday typified Sunderland’s spirit and togetherness.
The defender revealed: “The gaffer said before the City game that we can either go through the motions or really put our mark on this season in these last seven games.
“The lads all agreed with that and we are going to have to play every game like it’s the first game of the season.
“That’s the hope.
“Everyone has to fight for their position.
“No-one can afford to go through the motions. The manager will remember how we end this season.
“We could have sulked after losing to Everton. You do yourself no favours if you sulk.
“You just have to get your head down and be ready for the next game.
“I think we showed we were ready on Saturday.”