Sunderland boss O’Neill: Graham out to prove his worth

SETTLING IN ... Sunderland striker Danny Graham

SETTLING IN ... Sunderland striker Danny Graham

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MARTIN O’NEILL believes Danny Graham will be eager to prove himself after finding himself confined to the fringes at Swansea City.

Sunderland’s January signing proved a huge hit in his first year as a Premier League regular last season after netting 12 top-flight goals for the newly-promoted Swans, following his £3.5million move from Championship Watford.

But after Michael Laudrup replaced Brendan Rodgers at the Liberty Stadium helm in the summer, the Gateshead-born striker dropped down the pecking order.

Just five of Graham’s final 14 appearances for Swansea came in the starting line-up, with on-loan Kaiserslautern frontman Etey Shechter preferred to the 27-year-old for last month’s stalemate at the Stadium of Light despite an 18-month lean streak in front of goal.

But Sunderland boss O’Neill believes the final episodes in Graham’s Swansea career have given the former Middlesbrough a determination to prove himself once more after joining the Black Cats for £5m on transfer deadline day.

“Last season, he had a terrific year and scored a lot of goals,” said O’Neill.

“There was a change of management and Michu has come to great prominence and Danny had to take a back seat.

“He never really regained his place over the last few months. I always feel about Danny that there’s a hurdle in front of him that he wants to overcome.

“If he doesn’t do that, then he feels that he’s not been successful. In that sense, it’s pretty good for us.”

Graham’s desire to return to his native North East was also a key factor behind his decision to leave Swansea, who will look to secure European qualification next weekend in the Capital One Cup final.

But that is a factor which O’Neill remains cautious about.

O’Neill added: “I think there might have been a bout of home sickness as well, getting back to the North East where he’s got a lot of family and friends.

“But that’s never always the best reason to be coming back, let me tell you.”