MARTIN O’Neill admits Ryan Noble must make further improvements to his physique, if he is to force his way into first-team contention.
Noble was handed his first pre-season start in Friday’s defeat to former employers Hartlepool United after scoring a spectacular late winner in Sunderland’s previous friendly outing against FC Groningen in South Korea’s Peace Cup.
The 20-year-old is yet to feature competitively under O’Neill after being sent on loan to Derby and then Hartlepool, following the appointment of the ex-Aston Villa boss last December.
Hartlepool remain eager to take Noble back on loan, with boss Neale Cooper a big fan of the Millfield-born striker, although they will face plenty of competition from both the Championship and League One if Sunderland allow him to leave again on a temporary basis.
O’Neill won’t consider any fresh loan moves for Sunderland’s youngsters yet, with the Black Cats manager using the pre-season campaign to take a closer look at the crop of Academy graduates.
But while acknowledging Noble’s strengths as a goalscorer, O’Neill says the frontman is well aware of what he must do to cope with the physical demands of the Premier League.
O’Neill said: “Ryan scored a magnificent goal a few days ago in Korea. That will have given him a big boost in confidence.
“He knows himself what he has to do to try to break into the team.
“The Premier League is an unforgiving league. It’s physically as strong as it’s been for some considerable time.
“That doesn’t mean that somebody slimmer can’t perform in it. There’s a number of excellent players who are not the heaviest.
“But in a physical sense, he has to get a bit stronger and work on his hold-up play which needs to improve.
“He knows where the net is though.”
Noble scored 14 times in 11 reserve team appearances last season before notching twice in nine starts for Hartlepool.
But he is yet to find the net for Sunderland’s first-team in a competitive outing after six substitute outings for his hometown club.