MARTIN O’Neill says he is not unduly worried about Stephane Sessegnon’s struggle for early-season form.
Sunderland’s Player of the Season has been a shadow of his former self in the opening few matches of the campaign, culminating in his display against Liverpool where his lack of form was painfully clear to a 40,000 plus home crowd.
It was hoped that the Benin international – short of match fitness after a pre-season disrupted by an ankle injury – would improve with each game as his sharpness improved.
There’s no doubt that an in-form Sessegnon can transform Sunderland’s fortunes on the pitch and O’Neill admitted after the Liverpool game that the form of last season’s joint top-scorer in recent weeks had been ‘frustrating’.
But the Black Cats’ boss is confident that the striker is simply undergoing a blip and will soon be back to his best.
“It’s not happening for Stephane at the moment, but I have no major worries about that,” said O’Neill, who rewarded Sessegnon for his displays last season by handing him an improved three-year deal last month.
“We know what he is capable of doing. I don’t have any major concerns over him over the course of time, although of course I would like more from him at this minute.
“But it has been frustrating for him – and for everybody – I wouldn’t deny that.
“Even at his best, sometimes he might give the ball away when he is running and trying to be creative, but you don’t mind that so much.
“In recent weeks, though, he has been miscontrolling the ball and giving it away sloppily.”
Sessegnon completed his first 90 minutes in the league this season in last weekend’s 1-1 draw against Liverpool at the Stadium of Light and the manager hopes that that run-out will go a long way to improving his sharpness.
He admitted he consider substituting the 28-year-old late on in the game but having made two previous changes in the game through injury decided to err on the side of caution.
That decision paid off when striker Steven Fletcher picked up a knock in the closing stages of the game, leaving Sessegnon to complete the 90 minutes.
The manager explained: “Stephane could have been withdrawn in the game – and I don’t that would have been a major surprise to anybody – but just at the time I was thinking of it, Steven Fletcher went over on his ankle and so I had to take that into consideration.
“I’ve seen managers make three substitutions at half-time before – Barry Fry used to do it, Jose Mourinho did it when Chelsea played Liverpool a few years back.
“No matter how brilliant you feel you can be, I think you are leaving yourself open if you suffer any injury in the second half and particularly in the last 15 minutes of a game when you know that some of your players will be very tired and you might be under the cosh.
“You’d like to think that you still have something in reserve, in terms of substitutions.
“As for Stephane, he might have been helped by the 90 minutes and hopefully it won’t be too long before we see him back to his best.”