Sunderland’s Martin O’Neill: I’m open to change

Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill.
Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill.
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MARTIN O’NEILL insists he has an open-minded approach over Sunderland’s formation.

In his 14 months in charge at the Stadium of Light, O’Neill has largely deployed a 4-4-1-1 system, with Stephane Sessegnon operating in the hole behind the lone striker.

But, over the last few weeks, O’Neill (pictured) has experimented with how the Wearsiders line up.

The Sunderland manager has used Sessegnon and Adam Johnson in wide roles alongside three central midfielders, while last month’s capture of Danny Graham has prompted calls for the £5million striker to partner Steven Fletcher in a more orthodox 4-4-2.

O’Neill, whose side will complete the final full day of their warm-weather training camp in Dubai today, says he is flexible over Sunderland’s system, and his tactics will depend on both circumstances and the players he has available.

“I’ve no fixed way of thinking this is the perfect way to play,” O’Neill told the Echo.

“I changed things at Celtic and did the same at Leicester.

“It’s as much to do with the personnel as anything else.

“We went to Wigan and played three in the middle of the pitch with two wide players for the first time.

“Tactically, I didn’t want to be outnumbered by Wigan in there because they’d caused us plenty of problems in the early part of the game there in January last year and the same here earlier this season, although I don’t concern myself with everything the opposition do.

“But, because we got the result, you’d say that it worked.”

If O’Neill is to partner Graham with Fletcher, he believes one of them will inevitably occupy a deeper role.

But he is confident Fletcher could thrive in the supporting slot, despite netting double figures in his maiden season at the Stadium of Light from the peak of Sunderland’s attack.

O’Neill added: “In this modern day, I honestly believe that for the second striker – whether you call him a number 10 or forward-thinking midfielder – his natural position is to drop in.

“Whether he helps out as much defensively for some teams and crosses the halfway line to defend is another thing. But (Carlos) Tevez and (Sergio) Aguero play together as two out-and-out forwards and one drops off.

“Interestingly, I actually think Fletcher could play that position, even though he’s enjoyed playing up there as the centre-forward and getting hold of it.

“He could be a link man. It’s a thought. We needed to bolster the squad and get someone in to try to help and get a few goals and Danny is capable of doing that, as he’s proved.”