Internationals are no help to Sunderland, says O’Neill

Phil Bardsley (left) with new Scotland manager Gordon Strachan
Phil Bardsley (left) with new Scotland manager Gordon Strachan
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MARTIN O’Neill says Sunderland’s match preparations will not be helped by the loss of so many of the first-team squad to international duty this week.

The Black Cats have 11 players away representing their countries, of which eight are first-team regulars for Sunderland and 10 regular squad members.

It means that training at the Academy of Light this week for the remainder of the squad will be a challenge for the coaching staff with only Craig Gardner, Titus Bramble, Alfred N’Diaye and Jack Colback remaining in the North East from the team that made the starting line-up against Reading at the weekend.

“It is difficult,” O’Neill said. “We have a word with the players before they head away on international duty but it is not easy. It isn’t quite so bad if the players have won a game before the international break but if they’ve lost a game you really want to be working with them during the week.

“It’s far from ideal for us and I’ve welcomed talk of not holding so many friendly internationals during the course of subsequent seasons.

“But the one thing that you can’t deny is that it is pretty much the same for the majority of clubs in the Premier League – we aren’t the only one in the position of having so many players away.”

Sunderland have a trio of players involved in the Republic of Ireland’s game against Poland tomorrow with James McClean, John O’Shea and Keiren Westwood all expected to featured in the game at the Aviva Stadium.

Seb Larsson is expected to start in Sweden’s game against Argentina in Solna the same night and David Vaughan will hope to involved in Wales’s game against Austria in Swansea.

Phil Bardsley was an unused substitute for Sunderland at the weekend as he continues to look for his best form after suffering long-term injury in the close season.

But he has a chance of playing in Scotland’s game against Estonia in Aberdeen’s Pittodrie Stadium – a game in which club team-mate Steven Fletcher should start.

While most of the players are involved in friendlies of one sort or another, Simon Mignolet will be taking part in a World Cup 2014 qualifier when Belgium take on Slovakia in the Breydel Stadion in Bruges tomorrow.

Elsewhere, Stephane Sessegnon has made the long flight to Benin for a hastily-arranged friendly.

And as regards the younger internationals, Connor Wickham and Jordan Pickford are both involved in games tonight.

Wickham is part of the England Under 21 squad set to face Sweden U21s at the Banks’ Stadium in Walsall; Pickford is part of the England Under 19 side taking on Denmark’s U19s in the Keepmoat Stadium, Doncaster.