MARTIN O’Neill is counting no chickens ahead of next week’s FA Cup quarter-final replay against Everton.
But he admits there’s no getting away from the fact that the Black Cats’ hopes will be boosted by the returns to selection of Stephane Sessegnon and Lee Cattermole.
Both picked up bans in the Newcastle derby earlier this month, but Sessegnon is due to return this Saturday in the Premier League game against Queens Park Rangers while Cattermole is available for the Everton game three days later.
“Steph and Lee are major players for us,” O’Neill conceded.
“The two of them have done exceptionally well for us over the last couple of months and it will be great for us when they’re available again.
“Cattermole has been inspirational as a leader to us.
“People may point out he has missed a few games for us with suspensions, but, actually, I worry about what he does after the game rather than during it!
“Then again, he was in the dressing room before the game against Everton – he was as determined as enthusiastic as everyone, trying to drive the players on.
“He’s been terrific as a leader and it surprised me that he was as young as 23.
“Taking that into account, too, he’s done very well for us.
“And so has Sessegnon.
“They’re key players for us and we’re better with them in the side.”
Whatever happens for the replay, O’Neill – who could miss Phil Bardsley for tomorrow’s trip to Blackburn – appreciates that Sunderland are now in the business end of the season and need to make the most of their squad.
He said: “We have Phil Bardsley, who may be a real doubt for Blackburn now. We had Kieran Richardson who we hoped would be available for Everton but who had a setback.
“So, at this stage of the season, you have to look at those injury issues first when you look at who you might or might not select.”