SUNDERLAND boss Martin O’Neill admits Sunderland’s attack needs a timely boost from Adam Johnson after fresh doubts over the England winger’s fitness.
Johnson was pencilled in to make his home Premier League bow for the Black Cats in tomorrow’s Stadium of Light clash against Wigan after shaking off a thigh injury to appear as a late substitute in the Capital One Cup victory at MK Dons on Tuesday night.
But the £10million summer signing missed training yesterday with a recurrence of the problem that saw him sidelined for Sunderland’s encounters against Liverpool and West Ham.
It forces O’Neill to make a late decision on Johnson for the third successive weekend, but he knows the importance of having the 25-year-old back in the fold as the Wearsiders chase their first league victory of the campaign.
O’Neill told the Echo: “This is a game, regardless of whether Adam plays or not, where we’ve got to be more aggressive in outlook and make sure we’re the ones attacking.
“The onus is on us to break them down.
“So I wouldn’t want to continue much longer without his ability, particularly with his knack of unlocking defences.
“I have to say it’s another touch-and-go weekend. He came on against MK Dons, trained fine on Wednesday, but still felt something niggling.
“He went for some scans on Wednesday afternoon which came up clear, there was no fresh damage.
“It’s trying to reassure him it’s okay, but I understand players want to be absolutely right about things.
“He rested yesterday, he’ll hopefully train today, but I genuinely don’t know whether he will be ready.
“I was hoping he’d be fit for Liverpool, but then he still wasn’t fit for West Ham.”
Johnson has featured just once in the top flight for Sunderland since his switch from Manchester City - struggling to get involved in last month’s 2-2 draw at Swansea.
But O’Neill expects Sunderland to have the lion’s share of possession tomorrow, which will be a far more familiar situation for the former Middlesbrough man.
“We couldn’t get him into it against Swansea, I don’t think through any fault of his own,” said O’Neill.
“He started looking for the wonder ball because he wasn’t getting enough possession.
“At Manchester City, for the periods he did play, he knew possession-wise, they’d have as much as any Premier League team, if not a darn sight more.
“So he should be getting the ball more often if he plays tomorrow, we just have to see if he’s fit.”
Johnson is Sunderland’s major injury concern with Seb Larsson, John O’Shea and Titus Bramble all back in training after being rested in midweek.
On-loan Spurs left-back Danny Rose is complaining of a slight ankle problem, although the England under-21 international is expected to be fit.
Carlos Cuellar is also in contention after returning earlier than expected from a hamstring strain which ruled him out of last weekend’s 1-1 draw at Upton Park.
O’Neill added: “Thankfully Carlos trained yesterday and he said he feels pretty decent. That would be a terrific recovery.”