Martin O’Neill’s waiting game

FOCUSED ... Sunderland's Martin O'Neill.
FOCUSED ... Sunderland's Martin O'Neill.
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MARTIN O’NEILL is yet to form a blueprint of how Sunderland’s team-sheet will look for their Premier League opener in seven days’ time.

Sunderland faced their final pre-season friendly at O’Neill’s former club Leicester City today, with the Black Cats squad still firmly a work in progress after just one new arrival this summer.

O’Neill has made several bids for players but is yet to see progress in his attempts to bolster the squad after baulking at Wolves £15million-plus asking price for striker Steven Fletcher.

Sunderland are considering other forward options, including Spurs striker Jermain Defoe.

But O’Neill admits that with uncertainty still surrounding any incomings, he has not begun considering how Sunderland will line up at Arsenal a week today.

O’Neill told the Echo: “I’ve no idea at this minute.

“You’d like to think there’d be someone in by that time. That might not materialise, I’m not making any promises.

“But I’d like to us to produce a better performance today and make sure the players who are here are up to speed.

“We’re obviously active to try to get some players in.

“It’s no more difficult than I envisaged. But we want to try to add some quality to the team which we need and what some of the good football players at the club deserve.

“A lot of players will be away on international duty next week which fragments it a bit. But I expect it to really hot up now.”

O’Neill’s plans are not helped by injuries, with Sunderland expected to receive the results of tests on the ankle injuries to Phil Bardsley and Stephane Sessegnon today.

“Phil did a couple of scans yesterday to check everything was working alright,” said O’Neill.

“But he’s a had a tough pre-season. He started the first few days so brightly, but he’s obviously been knocked back by his injury.

“We should have some news on Sessegnon today. It’s just a precautionary scan.

“It’s unfortunate. He’s had a break, come back and after the first day when he was not in the best physical condition, he improved immensely. I’m hoping everything’s alright.”

Even at centre-half, where Sunderland have genuine strength in depth, O’Neill cannot pencil in a partnership, with Wes Brown still on the sidelines and Matt Kilgallon and Titus Bramble both missing Wednesday’s friendly at Derby.

Carlos Cuellar and John O’Shea were paired together at Pride Park and look favourite to start the season in central defence, although O’Neill would like a fully-fit quota of defenders to choose from.

“Matthew Kilgallon is coming back from injury, Titus was sore the other night and with Wes being out for a while, Carlos and John have played,” added O’Neill.

“Considering that’s the area where we’ve got the most players, it’s actually getting to a stage where there’s not as many to choose from as we think.

“We’ve got some experience there though which will be very important.”