MARTIN O’NEILL is unlikely to continue experimenting with James McClean in central midfield, particularly after boosting his engine room options with the capture of Alfred N’Diaye.
Left-winger McClean has been switched to the middle of the park in the second half of each of Sunderland’s last two Premier League outings against Spurs and Liverpool.
Admittedly, Sunderland were chasing the game on each occasion and were forced to adopt an attacking approach, but O’Neill was also keen to utilise McClean’s size and strength in a central role.
A lack of midfield muscle has been a problem for Sunderland all season, but yesterday’s £4million capture of 6ft 2in N’Diaye from Turks Bursaspor has boosted O’Neill’s options in the engine room.
And that is likely to spell the end of McClean’s forays into the middle, with O’Neill believing the Republic of Ireland international is still at his most effective out wide.
O’Neill told the Echo: “I thought he would give us a bit of physical strength in there, which we lack against other teams in the Premier League.
“But as to whether it is a long-term thing, I am not really sure about that.
“James is still learning his own position out wide and it is a different issue going in there (to central midfield).”
O’Neill is aware that McClean only has 13 months of Premier League experience under his belt and has been battling to discover the form he showed when he burst into the first-team picture last season.
But the Sunderland boss believes the 23-year-old will still have found it beneficial to compete in a different environment, even if he finds himself far more at home on the flanks.
“In terms of his overall game, it will do him no harm at all,” added O’Neill.
“Even though it is only 15 yards infield, you get a very different picture – you see things another way.
“When you are playing out wide, they say the white line is your friend – nobody is going to come from behind the line to tackle you.
“John Robertson (O’Neill’s former Nottingham Forest team-mate and long-term assistant) used to say that that was what he loved about playing there.
“The line was there for him and you know where you are.
“When you are infield, there are players coming in from either side of you, from behind you and from in front of you.
“The second you miscontrol it, people are on top of you and suddenly you’ve lost the ball.”