MARTIN O'Neill will send Adam Johnson into League Cup battle against Morecambe tonight with the promise that Sunderland are ready to become an attacking force in the Premier League again.
England international Johnson will start against the League Two Shrimps this evening while striker Steven Fletcher is likely to be on the bench as Sunderland start a new era at the Stadium of Light.
By signing Johnson from Manchester City, O’Neill believes he has brokered one of the biggest transfers of his managerial career. And unlike when he negotiated a deal to take Ashley Young to Aston Villa for £9million, this time he thinks he has signed a ready-made star who will instantly give his Sunderland side a different dimension.
O’Neill’s sense of excitement is palpable as he contemplates first appearances for both of his new signings.
He said: “Adam, with playing for England, his fitness is fine and a lot more advanced than Steven Fletcher. In fairness, Adam wanted to get things sorted on Friday but the timing just beat us. I think for him, it (tonight) would be a great opportunity. He will be playing.
“Fletcher gives us a bit of a new dimension. I would love to promise that we will score a lot more goals with the two in the team, but I do get the impression that we will create more chances.
“Johnson is a very exciting player. He just needs more encouragement to keep going but he is the type of player I love. He is someone who takes opponents on, which is something I used to do myself without great success!”
After Saturday’s disappointing postponement, Sunderland will be hoping that tonight’s game passes off without incident.
The club want supporters to turn up early to avoid long queues at the ticket office and are anticipating a decent attendance with ticket prices at £10 for adults. O’Neill senses the excitement among Black Cats and has promised them they will see a different Sunderland now – provided they can afford it. “Of course (I would love a big crowd) but I would never want to encourage or forcefully tell people to turn up,” he said.
“It is a costly business these days. I think some of our fans are really excited about Adam Johnson coming to this football club. And I am sure they will come and support him.
“But over the course of the season, they will have plenty opportunities to see what we are getting.”
The inevitable comparisons with his other big winger signing are something that O’Neill does not necessarily downplay – although he feels Johnson is further on in his career than Young was.
“This signing is absolutely as exciting as Ashley Young was,” he said. “Ashley Young, however, had a lot to prove at that time. Adam is there, he is there as a player. He has been so exciting and has been for a couple of years and he just wants a platform to show it.”
Meanwhile, Sunderland are investing considerable efforts in trying to recruit a left-back before Friday’s deadline.
Fulham look set to sign Kieran Richardson but O’Neill will only let the defender move to the capital if he has a viable replacement lined up – with Aston Vila’s Stephen Warnock and Dnipro’s Ivan Strinic the two main candidates. The Journal understands Sunderland made contact over the latter over the weekend.
The club also have an interest in Tottenham’s Michael Dawson, who is rumoured to be on QPR’s radar.