JAMES McCLEAN insists Martin O’Neill’s appointment has not altered his mission to make a mark on the Premier League.
McClean has made clear strides since arriving in a £350,000 deal from Derry City during the summer, with the 22-year-old now a serious challenger for a first-team spot.
The left winger is yet to make his Black Cats debut after being an unused substitute on eight occasions this season.
But McClean impressed new boss Martin O’Neill in Thursday’s reserve team win over Manchester United and is in contention to feature in tomorrow’s first-team clash with Blackburn Rovers.
McClean realises every player has the chance to start afresh with the new Sunderland manager, but believes he has had to prove himself ever since making the significant leap from the Irish League.
“I’ve still got the same mindset as I had when I came over here,” McClean told the Echo.
“I just wanted to play football and do well, no matter who was in charge, and get into the first team.
“That’s my aim and it’s not changed. I just want to keep on improving.
“I feel my game has improved since I came here because you’re playing with top class players every day in training.
“I think I’ve come on physically and I’ve got more awareness now.
“It’s a different style of play in Ireland compared to here and I feel I’ve adapted well.
“The next step is to get the chance in the Premier League and hopefully when that comes, I can grab it with both hands.”
McClean is not the only youngster challenging for a first-team opportunity, with second string team-mate Ryan Noble notching his third hat-trick in four games in the 6-3 victory over United.
“Ryan’s confidence is sky-high and it makes my job a lot easier as a winger,” added the former Northern Ireland U21 international.
“I just put the ball in the box and it seems like he’s getting on the end of everything at the moment which makes both me and him look good.
“He’s got 11 goals in the last four games which is a phenomenal record at any level. He’s doing really well and I hope he can keep it up.
“For the first 15 minutes the other night, everyone was a bit nervous in front of the new manager, including myself.
“Then we settled down and to score six goals against Man United, shows there’s good quality here.
“Hopefully a few of us can push on and get into the first team.”