MARTIN O’NEILL hopes James McClean’s performances on the international scene are an indication that the Sunderland winger is returning to form, writes CHRIS YOUNG.
McClean’s displays for the Republic of Ireland in back-to-back World Cup qualifiers were one of the few positives for the Black Cats during a harrowing international break after the 23-year-old impressed against both Sweden and Austria.
The former Derry City man has not started a Premier League game for Sunderland since January’s 3-0 win over West Ham after a campaign in which he has struggled to live up to the heights of his breakthrough season on Wearside.
But with top scorer Steven Fletcher ruled out until the end of the season, McClean could be recalled to the side against Manchester United tomorrow, with Stephane Sessegnon moving into a more central role.
Sunderland manager O’Neill admits there is an opportunity for McClean to prove his worth over the crunch final eight games.
O’Neill told the Echo: “James has been doing well and he looks as if he’s got a bit of refreshment.
“Over the course of the season, I think he’ll be a wee bit disappointed with some of his performances.
“But he’s got that hunger and determination to do well so between now and the end of the season, it’s a great opportunity for him.
“I’m not sure he lost his appetite, but he definitely lost a bit of confidence.
“I didn’t see the Sweden game live, but I got the DVD which I watched yesterday afternoon.
“And I watched a lot of the game against Austria on Tuesday.
“It was good to see him do well in that game.”
Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni has previously been reluctant to include McClean, but handed the Sunderland man his first competitive start in the goalless draw in Sweden seven days ago.
And although Tuesday’s qualifier against Austria ultimately ended in disappointment for Ireland after conceding a stoppage time equaliser, Trapattoni was rewarded after keeping faith with McClean.
O’Neill added: “It probably will give him a boost of confidence to start a competitive game for his country.
“Obviously, him and John (O’Shea) will be a bit down from the late equaliser which was really avoidable.
“But they have to put the international matches on the back-burner and concentrate on our form.”