MARTIN O’NEILL has backed Sunderland’s creative trio to hit top gear with a fixture-packed two months ahead.
James McClean, Stephane Sessegnon and Adam Johnson head into tomorrow’s Wear-Tyne derby with all three players still to make a significant impact on the Premier League this season.
McClean is yet to banish doubts over the second season syndrome, Sessegnon (left) has been short on match fitness and Johnson has been plagued by illness and injury since arriving from Manchester City.
But O’Neill is not worried, stressing that Sunderland have only played six league outings in the first two months of the season, but face 14 before the end of 2012 – handing the trio plenty of opportunity to find their sharpness.
O’Neill told the Echo: “I agree our creative players have at this minute, not reached their full heights – the heights we know they’re capable of. But it’s going to be a long two-and-a-half months coming up now.
“We’ve only played six games in more than two months when you think about it.
“We’re scheduled, even with the (yet to be rearranged) Reading game being out of it, for 14 games in the next two months. That’s not counting cup games either.
“So they’ve got plenty of time to find their rhythm.”
Johnson returned to training at the Academy of Light on Thursday, despite England’s World Cup qualifier in Poland being delayed by a day, to prepare for his first taste of a Wear-Tyne derby.
The 25-year-old has featured against Newcastle for Middlesbrough, but this will be the first time he faces the Magpies in red and white.
O’Neill sympathises with the start of Johnson’s Sunderland career and hopes the disruptions for the £10million summer signing are now at an end.
“Johnson has been unlucky because when he arrived here, his first game against Morecambe was absolutely terrific,” added the Sunderland manager.
“We couldn’t really get him into it the following Saturday at Swansea. “After Swansea, it was England for a fortnight and then he wasn’t fit. I just hope he can get a clear run for about two months now.
“I’m sure it’s helped him going away with England last week. Sometimes getting away with a couple of international boys that you haven’t seen for a while, might be as good as a rest.
“But he’s come back, he’s raring to go and he wants to have a crack.”