O'Neill wants Black Cats to wing it
Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill is hoping his wingers are finally ready to terrorise Barclays Premier League full-backs.
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Adam Johnson and James McClean played key roles in Boxing Day's 1-0 victory over champions Manchester City, with the £10million England international contributing the winning goal and McClean providing a reminder of the form which propelled him into the Republic of Ireland squad for Euro 2012.
O'Neill's plan for the season was to have his two wide men supplying the ammunition for £12million summer signing Steven Fletcher and Benin international Stephane Sessegnon from the off, although 25-year-old Johnson's injury problems and a lack of form for both men have hampered the scheme's implementation.
However, there were signs against City that it is starting to come to fruition and now the Ulsterman is hoping for more of the same as he prepares for ,a href=http://www.sportinglife.com/football/live/match-preview/261760/sunderland-v-tottenham-hotspur>Saturday's visit of high-flying Tottenham to the Stadium of Light.
O'Neill said: "They can be a threat and this is the whole point. If we can get the ball out to Adam sometimes a wee bit more quickly than we do, then he can cause problems.
"You would hope that would be the case. With James, we sat here a couple of months ago and we were talking about this second season syndrome, and I was hoping that it genuinely wouldn't be an insurmountable problem for him.
"I knew he would have difficulty early on, and that was shown by the number of times that full-backs went to close him so very quickly in matches.
"He is learning to cope with that know and I am hoping he will overcome it. But still, he will have games where he will be unable to do anything, simply because players have either marked him or things didn't happen for him.
"But overall, he is coming through."
Former Derry City midfielder McClean exploded on to the Premier League scene 12 months ago after being handed his debut as a substitute in O'Neill's first game in charge, and his elevation to the senior international stage soon followed.
Johnson, however, arrived on Wearside during the close-season with a far higher profile having made his name at Middlesbrough before earning a £7million switch to City, although it has taken him time to find his feet.
O'Neill said: "Essentially, he was on an excellent run at Middlesbrough, went to Manchester City and by his own admission, he would say the he had more cameo roles than anything else, particularly in the last 18 months of his time there.
"To come in here and really be asked to do all the things that we think he's capable of doing, but to change our fortunes, one player changing everything, that was asking a lot.
"He had a wee bit of difficulty early on, but he is overcoming that and he's now starting to show in longer patches, anyway, the sort of form I think he is capable of."
The victory over City was a third in four league games for the Black Cats, a run which has eased them in to 13th place in the table on 22 points.
But O'Neill, who will be without the ineligible Danny Rose but could have John O'Shea back from illness, knows they will have to be at their best once again if they are to contain a Spurs side for whom Gareth Bale has been in breathtaking form.
The Welshman has been linked with a move to some of Europe's biggest clubs, and the Sunderland manager believes he has the ability to play anywhere.
O'Neill said: "He's a splendid player and has been now for a couple of seasons.
"A way back some years ago, they were talking about the fact that Tottenham couldn't win a game when he was either starting or coming on as a sub. I think they felt he was a bit of an albatross.
"Well, he's far from that now. It's the case that he's one of the best players in Europe. Has he got the ability to play anywhere in world football? Absolutely."