JAMES McClean will terrorise Premier League defences this season as much as he did last term, once he learns to cope with the extra attention being paid to him.
That’s the verdict of specialist coach Steve Guppy.
McClean, 23, has impressed in Capital One Cup games against Morecambe and MK Dons this season, but found the going tougher at Premier League level where defences are actively looking at ways to stifle Sunderland’s Young Player of the Season.
The attacking winger started the campaign telling the Echo he doesn’t believe in second-season syndrome, but both he and his team-mates have yet to really hit top gear in the league games so far.
Sunderland first-team coach Guppy, though, believes this is all part of the learning process for the former Derry City wideman, who he believes will be a Premier League regular for years to come.
“James is a great talent,” Guppy told the Echo. “But he’s going to face challenges throughout his career, like everyone else.
“Last year, he was a bit of an unknown quantity coming in midway through the campaign and making an absolutely terrific impact.
“He was fresh to it all and he was terrorising Premier League defences pretty much every week.
“It was great.
“But the opposition aren’t daft and they’re looking at ways of closing him down.
“Last season, he was regularly knocking the ball past his full-back, racing him, beating him and putting a cross in.
“This season, full-backs are getting really tight on James and working hard at denying him any space to work in. Regularly, they are doubling up on him, which means he hasn’t got the same room to manoeuvre.
“It is to be expected and James, with the help of the coaching staff, has to find ways and means of dealing with it. “He is already adapting his game.
“You see him play the ball inside more now, rather than feels he has to try beating his man every single time no matter how tough it is for him.
“That patience and decision-making is all about improving as a player.
“And there are other aspects of his game he is working on.
“Hopefully, when the rest of the team is flying, it will be harder to limit him because double-marking one player leaves other areas of the park free for us.
“What I would say about him this season though, and I think this is important, is that when our stats returns come back from each game, James is the player who has invariably covered more miles than anyone else in a match.
“You can’t fault him for his work-rate and his effort and, when players keep working that hard, you tend to see them coming through whatever challenge they face to be even better players than before.”