LUKE O’NIEN has defended Mike Dodds’ spell as Sunderland’s interim head coach – and insisted the players have to take responsibility for the club’s disastrous end to the season.

Dodds won just two of his 13 matches as interim boss following the dismissal of Michael Beale, with the Black Cats tumbling from the fringe of the play-off places to the point where they eventually finished the season just six points clear of the bottom three.

As he prepares to step aside for a new permanent head coach, Dodds has willingly shouldered much of the blame for the failings of the last few months.

But as he reflected on Sunderland’s struggles in the wake of their 2-0 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday on the final day of the campaign, O’Nien was quick to turn the spotlight on the playing squad rather than the coaching set-up.

“I always try to hold up the mirror first and reflect on me and the group,” said the Black Cats defender. “When you’ve had two or three managers, there becomes a big onus on the players as well.

“A lot of managers will take responsibility, but I sit here and take full responsibility right now. What annoys me most this season is how good Mike Dodds and all his coaching team are, and that hasn’t been reflected in the table and the results.

“Those guys have taken charge of the team when we have theoretically been at our worst, when we’ve lost managers, and they’ve had a hard job. But they’ve given us information, they’ve worked really hard and it’s actually the most I’ve enjoyed working under a staff.

“But there comes a point where they’ve given us everything they can, but we just haven’t executed a gameplan as a group. They’ll take the responsibility and come out every week and hold their hand up and say it’s on them, but I’m saying now that a lot of that is on the players. We’re the ones that have not executed the gameplan when they’ve given us everything. I’m disappointed in that, that the group didn’t give them more.”

O’Nien was involved in a succession of unsuccessful seasons in League One, and just as Sunderland’s players learned from each of those disappointments before eventually winning promotion, so he is urging the current squad to use the events of the last nine months as fuel to spark an improvement next term.

“It’s good when a season is going well for you, but there’s actually less to take away,” he said. “There’s more to take away this season than last. We’ve got all the facts in front us – where we’ve been good, but also our deficiencies. Now, it’s important that we reflect on the season, and not just reflect, but put in a better plan.

“Individually, myself included, we have to make sure we come back better. That’s all in front of us now. We spent a lot of time in League One, and every season we didn’t get promoted, there was a lot of reflection and we came back to pre-season with better foundations, and didn’t make the same mistakes. Now, it’s important that we have to do the exact same thing. A season like this will be the driving force for when we are successful.”

O’Nien chaired a post-match players’ meeting in the dressing room at the Stadium of Light yesterday in which some harsh words were exchanged ahead of the summer break.

“Emotions were quite high,” he admitted. “I said a few things, and that’s between me and the group to digest. It’s more of an action plan, and a reflection of what’s happened in the season, and going forward, what we need to do.

“Pre-season plans will be sent out with what we need to follow. The processes that we’ve put in place, they stay, and they’re the minimum foundations coming back for day one. Then, we build on that. Everyone has to come back fit and fighting. Shirts are there to grab for the start of next season.”