MARTIN O'Neill believes Nicklas Bendtner has improved as a player while on the sidelines, and is hoping a scan on the centre-forward's swollen knee does not rule him out of Saturday's FA Cup quarter-final at Everton.
The Dane is expected to have tests today, although an appearance with Lee Cattermole at Newcastle magistrates could delay the process.
The injury is Bendtner’s second in a matter of weeks. He broke his nose at home to Swansea City in January, missing six games. The time out has, O’Neill feels, helped.
“I think he’s bought into the team ethos,” the manager admitted after Bendtner’s goal secured a 1-0 win over Liverpool.
“Since I’ve known him over the last three months he’s actually concerned himself with the team and even more now since he’s come back. He had a little spell out and I think he might have realised then that the team has to come first.”
The striker’s self-confidence is the stuff of legend and the source of much teasing from O’Neill, but it is a quality he admires.
Of Bendtner’s goal, the manager commented: “I said on TV that will have given him a boost in confidence, although I’ve chided myself because that’s the last thing he needs.
“But he did very well. He’s still not fully fit. When he went to Birmingham as an 18-year-old (on loan from Arsenal, as he is at the moment), he was trying to pick the team after a week. He has enormous self-belief, there’s no doubt about that and it never seems to flinch no matter what he’s done in the game.
“It’s a wonderful thing to have – I wish I’d had it myself. If it’s properly placed, it’s fine.
“You can have all the self-belief in the world but you need the ability to go with it. Fortunately he has. We have a few jokes at his expense but when he’s strong and fully fit he is a handful. I know the crowd get a wee bit irked at times and might feel he can bring it in a bit, but he is fine and strong and he gives us a presence.”
Asked about the chances of Bendtner’s season-long loan being made permanent, O’Neill was non-committal. “I really don’t know. I’ve not even discussed it with him,” he replied.
Bendtner and Cattermole are due in court today on charges of criminal damage to cars in Newcastle city centre.
O’Neill will be at Anfield tomorrow to watch Saturday’s opponents. “I’m looking forward to the Everton game, after a fashion,” he said. “I’m desperately hoping Nicklas will be fit, especially with (Stéphane) Sessègnon out. It would be a blow to lose him at this point.”
Bendtner and Fraizer Campbell – whose shot rebounded twice off the post before the Dane converted it – made light of the absence of Sessègnon who, like Cattermole, was suspended against Liverpool and will be against Everton.
“That was the probably the most pleasing aspect of the win – that we did it without the players who have been so influential for us this season,” said O’Neill. “Sessègnon hasn’t missed a game for us and Cattermole has been excellent.” Victory moved Sunderland up to eighth in the Premier League.
“There’s a group from eighth to 15th and that will vary from week to week, but it would be great to finish top of that group, fantastic,” added the manager.
Kieran Richardson missed Saturday’s game with a calf problem, handing a full debut to on-loan Wayne Bridge. Richardson, though, is expected to be fit to face Everton.
“We had a chance (to play him) but we decided to leave it,” O’Neill explained. “We thought we’d give him an extra week, and I had to find out what Bridge could do for us.”