AFTER a third win in six games, and with a second new signing expected today, Adam Johnson believes Sunderland can start looking up the Premier League table rather than looking over their shoulder.
A 3-0 win over West Ham United, which featured Johnson’s fourth goal of a slow-burner of a season, moved the Black Cats within four points of the top half.
With centre-back Kader Mangane due on Wearside for a medical today, that is where the winger believes they should now be focussing.
“We are nearer the top half than the bottom three now and I think that shows the improvement in recent weeks,” the winger (pictured left) commented.
“We beat Manchester City, we got a good win away at Southampton and things have picked up overall from earlier on in the season.
“We’re looking to the top half, not below. Let’s see if we can forget about the teams below us now.” Johnson’s early-season difficulties have mirrored those of the team as a whole, but they looked full of confidence against a West Ham side manager Sam Allardyce described as “woefully short.”
“Getting to know each other better could be one of the
things,” said the Easington-born player when asked to explain why his side had started the season so poorly. “I think it’s been hard with everyone coming in. It’s been a massive change for the club.
“There was a lot of expectancy on the club and I think we took a bit of time, but if we can keep performing like that we won’t be too worried.
“That was the best we’ve played this season. We’ve played well in spells of games, but over 90 minutes I would say that was our best performance.
“We looked threatening and we cut them open so many times. Everything clicked for us.”
Johnson’s goal, tapped in after calamitous defending by Dan Potts, should add further to the former Middlesbrough product’s confidence, although he insisted he does not measure his performances that way.
Johnson added: “An assist is just as good as a goal for me, as long as I can contribute that is the main thing.
“I think I’ve started more games for Sunderland probably than I did in the whole of last season (22, to 16 at Manchester City). I think that tells you the story. My game is benefiting from that. I feel much better physically.”
Alfred N’Diaye joined from Bursaspor last week and came on for Saturday’s last six minutes.
The giant midfielder looks set to be joined by an even bigger centre-back, with a six-month loan agreed for Al-Hilal’s Mangane.
Johnson said of N’Diaye: “He has trained with us for the last few days and looked exceptional.
“I think he’s only going to grow from strength to strength when he gets settled in more.
“He loves a tackle and he’s a big strong lad who gets around the pitch. He could have had a debut goal with his first touch.”
On Mangane, O’Neill said: “It would be a loan to the end of the season.
“We have a number of positions we would try and fill between now and the end of January and I’m hoping something will materialise.”
While there are clear physical similarities between the pair, O’Neill insisted there was more to his transfer policy than buying in bulk.
He added: “Alfred coming in, it wouldn’t be absolutely to do with his size, although it helps.
“He has good energy, he will be a real decent hit here.
“We are a bit small. It is hard to imagine many team smaller than us overall in the Premier League.
“In some games the physical aspect in the earlier part of the season we found difficult.”
Neither N’Diaye nor Mangane will be available for tomorrow’s FA Cup replay with Bolton Wanderers as they were not signed before the original game.