Sunderland boss O’Neill relieved at selection options

John O'Shea
John O'Shea
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MARTIN O’NEILL is glad to have some selection dilemmas again for this weekend’s trip to Scandinavia.

O’Neill’s options have been thin on the ground for the opening three games of pre-season, due to both injuries and the extended leave for the six players who represented their countries during the summer.

Keiren Westwood, who returned to Wearside ahead of schedule, was the only player on the bench at Hartlepool United last Friday with first-team experience, while 20-year-old striker Ryan Noble was handed a starting spot by O’Neill.

But the return to training this week of Stephane Sessegnon, Ahmed Elmohamady, John O’Shea, Seb Larsson and James McClean means O’Neill’s squad is now near full-strength.

Although Wes Brown and Phil Bardsley will miss tomorrow’s clash with Swedish side Helsingborgs through injury and Elmohamady and Sessegnon are not travelling due to visa issues, O’Neill is glad that Sunderland’s side will start to resemble more of a first-choice line-up.

O’Neill told the Echo: “We haven’t had a lot of choice so far.

“We took the younger kids out to Korea, but it’s genuinely nice to have one or two players now that you know what they can do.

“You can see it here this week. Seeing some of the players come back has given the rest of the crew a real lift.

“We’ve noticed in the games so far that we need more creativity in the team and the players coming back will help that.

“McClean, particularly, had a great season last year and Sessegnon is very important to us obviously and Seb’s contribution certainly couldn’t be ignored.”

Sunderland, who will make the return journey to Sweden within a day, have lost two of their three friendlies so far and although O’Neill is not worried about the result tomorrow, he wants to see an improved performance against a Helsingborgs side whose assistant manager is former Black Cats midfielder Stefan Schwarz.

“I tend to not get to concerned about pre-season, I like it low-key,” he added.

“Results are not that important, but you still want to be competing and win some games.

“I didn’t think we played particularly well in the game against Hartlepool in terms of performance.

“I’m not overly concerned about the result, but I thought the performance was disappointing.

“But when I think about it, the lads were only a couple of days back from Korea and were possibly suffering a bit of jet lag.

“What I hope to see in the next couple of matches is an improvement in performance. I want to try a few things out in the games too – players taking up different positions, that type of stuff.”