NEW Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill will give Nicklas Bendtner to the very last moment to prove his fitness for tomorrow’s big game against Blackburn Rovers at the Stadium of Light.
O’Neill knows improvement is needed in the striking department after recent struggles – but recognises how valuable the Danish international can be to his plans.
Bendtner has struggled to make an impact in the Premier League in his last few games, yet has scored five goals in his last five games for his country.
And while O’Neill will not risk the on-loan Arsenal man if there’s a chance of aggravating the groin strain he sustained against Wolves last weekend, he does see him as central to his strategy tomorrow.
O’Neill revealed: “Nicklas is still struggling with the groin problem but we hope will be OK for the weekend.
“It helps in the respect that the game takes place on a Sunday rather than a Saturday – that gives him an extra day – but I think he knows the importance of the game to us and is doing his best to involved.”
If Bendtner does not recover, that would leave O’Neill to choose between inexperienced young forwards Ji and Ryan Noble and stand-ins Stephane Sessegnon and Kieran Richardson.
He would probably go with his more experienced players – Richardson scoring a wonder goal against Wolves last week and Sessegnon having already proven he is more than useful in front of goal.
But without Bendtner he would have to make a major reshuffle and play an experimental line-up – and he wants to avoid that if at all possible.
O’Neill does, though, expect defenders Phil Bardsley and John O’Shea to play through their respective knocks.
“Phil has got an ankle injury that he received against Wigan and aggravated at Wolves but he’s a warrior and he’ll want to play,” said the manager.
“As for John O’Shea he hasn’t trained much since the weekend with a thigh complaint from the Wolves game but he should train before the match and have a good chance of being involved.”
Whatever his selection turns out to be, the manager is already looking forward to the game itself.
“I’m just as excited about the game on Sunday as I was when I first took the job last weekend,” he said.