Paddy McNair explains Sunderland’s recent improvements as Chris Coleman underlines his importance

Paddy McNair slams home Sunderland's opening goal at Leeds. Picture by Frank Reid
Paddy McNair slams home Sunderland's opening goal at Leeds. Picture by Frank Reid
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Sunderland manager Chris Coleman’s post-match remarks at Leeds United on Saturday were complimentary and it is hard not to think that he was hoping the powers that be were listening.

Paddy McNair, he said, ‘changes your life’.

The Northern Ireland international’s energy, athleticism and drive to make late runs into the box have made Sunderland more threatening, better balanced.

Had he been around in this form for more of this season, you suspect that the Black Cats would have more than six Championship wins on the board.

Coleman added that if Sunderland are serious about rebuilding, most likely now from League One, then McNair had to be kept at all costs.

It was a warning to those above, as in a squad where saleable assets are few and far between, McNair, in this form, is a player any Championship side would want on board.

For McNair, there is merely relief at being in the thick of the action once again.

“The last 18 months has been hell for me, watching from the sidelines and not being able to get involved,” said the former Manchester United man.

“I’ve been happy with my performances since I came back – I’ll always give my best and hopefully that can benefit the team and the club.”

McNair’s return has had a significant impact on Sunderland’s performances, but the 22-year-old also believes the team are benefiting from continuity in selection.

He said: “One of the big things is, we’ve played basically the same team for the last three games.

“When you don’t have many changes because of injuries or suspensions or whatever, if you can keep the same 11 or 12 together, you can get that understanding of each other.

“We’re frustrated we couldn’t get the win.

“All we can do is take it one game at a time and take this performance into Tuesday (when Sunderland host Norwich).”

That continuity has also seen Sunderland find a more persistent attacking threat, fortunate at times to avoid a second Leeds United goal in the 1-1 draw at Elland Road but close to one of their own on multiple occasions.

McNair believes his manager has settled on a system and a style that suits the players.

McNair, who fired home an impressive strike to give Sunderland the lead at Elland Road, said: “We’ve played 4-3-3 in the last three games and I think it is just one of those formations where you are on the front foot.

“It is a formation everyone plays when they’re 10 or whatever – I’ve played it all my life.

“It is second nature to most of us, when you’re going through tough times it is about going back to basics and that is what we’ve done, really.

“Four points from three games, it could easily have been more,” he added.

“When you take the lead, you want to go on and win the game.

“In fairness, they (Leeds) ae a good team who had good chances, hitting the woodwork. That’s just the game.

“Now we have to turn the next three into nine.

“Tuesday is must, must, must win.

“We say that a lot, but it really is. We’ll go into it confident because of the way we played (on Saturday).”

They are confident partly because McNair’s performances have given them a steel and balance that has been missing for much of the season.

In a time of such uncertainty, it gives Coleman something to hold onto.