ERIC Black believes Sunderland are about to get the best out of Stephane Sessegnon after an up-and-down campaign so far for the skilful Benin international.
Sunderland’s assistant manager admits efforts to mould a team around the African this season have not paid off.
But he is confident that the club can still help the 27-year-old fulfil his potential after watching him flourish against West Brom earlier this month.
He told the Echo: “Stephane is a player of such quality that we started the season with a system designed around him.
“The 4-4-1-1 formation, with Stephane playing just behind the main striker, should have brought the best out of him.
“We were looking to get the ball to him as much as possible and give him the chance to turn and run at defences, which is one of his strengths.
“But, unfortunately, that system coincided with a dip in Stephane’s form and, for whatever reason, it hasn’t worked as we would have liked – maybe he lost a bit of form or confidence, maybe the team didn’t gel as we would have hoped but, on all indicators, his stats were down from where they were last season.”
The watershed moment came in last month’s 2-1 defeat at Norwich City in which Sessegnon was awful, failing to get on to or hold on to the ball enough and snatching at every goalscoring opportunity, eventually shooting on sight from long range.
“That was when we knew we had to look at it again because when you’re feeling good and confident you don’t play like that,” said Black. “You don’t just instantly go for goal every time, you have the confidence to take things on.
“For the West Brom game, we looked to push him forward into a more orthodox position so that not everything had to go through him, and he looked far more comfortable and far more like his natural self in that role.”
Sunderland will go into Sunday’s match at Arsenal considering using Sessegnon as a lone striker, with on-loan Gunners forward Nicklas Bendtner unable to play against his parent club.
The diminutive Sessegnon is not a natural choice as a solitary striker, but he scored three goals in Sunderland’s final five games last season when he was played on his own up front.
Black said: “There’s a range of options for us this weekend and we’ll look at them all before deciding what we think is the best way to go.
“But we are looking at how we get the best out of Stephane and I think as time progresses we are finding out exactly what works with him and what doesn’t.
“It’s important that we look to find ways of helping him flourish because he’s such a wonderful footballer with bags of talent and he’s one of those creative players who have the ability to change a game in an instant.”
H Sunderland had a boost last night as Bendtner and Seb Larsson both got on the scoresheet in vital Euro 2012 qualifiers.
Bendtner notched as Denmark beat Portugal in a winner-takes-all clash to win their group – and automatic qualification for next year’s finals in Poland and Ukraine – while Larsson struck in Sweden’s fine win over Holland, guaranteeing an automatic slot as the best of the runners-up.