STEPHANE SESSEGNON believes James McClean can be a pivotal player for Sunderland over the second half of the campaign after overcoming his early-season dip.
McClean was left out of the Sunderland starting line-up for last weekend’s victory at Wigan after Martin O’Neill opted to introduce January signing Alfred N’Diaye.
But the Republic of Ireland winger’s recent performances have still shown a marked improvement from his struggles over the opening few months of the season when he was unable to reproduce the heights of his breakthrough year on Wearside.
McClean was dropped to the bench for five out of six games during October and November before resuming his role in the starting XI at Norwich City last month.
And since then, McClean has gradually begun to look like the player who took the Premier League by storm last season.
Fellow creative player Sessegnon believes McClean has seen his confidence develop alongside his work-rate and says the 23-year-old can again be an influential force for the Black Cats over the remaining 15 Premier League games.
Sessegnon told the Echo: “James has done well recently.
“He’s playing with confidence now and that’s good for him and for the team too.
“He’s someone who can be a really important player for us, as he showed last season.
“It was a difficult start to the season for him, but he always gave everything and now he’s getting rewards.”
McClean was only handed his first Premier League start on New Year’s Day last year, but benefited from being an unknown as he made an immediate impression on the top flight.
But the former Derry City man has come in for increased attention this time around as a marked man.
Sessegnon believes it was inevitably going to be a tougher campaign for McClean, but says the wideman’s quality was always going to shine through again in the end.
“When he broke into the side last season, it all seemed so easy for him,” added the Benin forward.
“Perhaps it was a bit tougher at the start of this year.
“But he’s showing again that he’s a really good young player and hopefully he can continue like that.
“Everyone knows that he’s a quality player and that doesn’t go away.
“That’s what he showed last season.”