SUNDERLAND have opened contract talks with James McClean as the Irish winger’s reputation grows on a weekly basis.
The 22-year-old extended an impressive sequence when opening the scoring in Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at home to Arsenal. He has now scored or created a goal in seven of the Black Cats’ last eight Premier League games and in doing so established himself as a mainstay of Martin O’Neill’s side.
When McClean signed from Derry City on a three-year contract in August it was for a fee of £350,000, and with an eye to the future, rather than the present. He failed to make a single first-team appearance under Steve Bruce, the manager who signed him, despite the Wearsiders’ inability to sign the experienced left-winger he had targeted.
Since O’Neill replaced Bruce in early December, McClean has been involved in every game bar one, which he spent as an unused substitute. The former Northern Ireland captain famously watched his compatriot play a reserve game against Manchester United days after taking charge at the Stadium of Light, and decided he was ready to step up to Premier League football.
McClean’s form has since prompted speculation he would be named in the Republic of Ireland squad for their friendly at home to the Czech Republic on February 29, having transferred his allegiances to the country under the Good Friday Agreement.
Although that did not come to pass, the surprise which greeted Giovanni Trapattoni’s decision last week only served to highlight the qualities of a member of what is becoming an increasingly exclusive club – a genuine left winger.
With that in mind, the Black Cats are hoping to tie McClean to a longer, more generous contract to ward off interest from elsewhere, and reward the player for his progress.
Meanwhile, Derby County manager Nigel Clough is hoping to extend Ryan Noble’s loan spell, which is due to end after tonight’s game at Reading, even though the 20-year-old striker has made just two appearances for the Rams – one from the substitute’s bench.
“We are going to have a chat with both Ryan and Sunderland in the next day or so and see where the land lies,” he said.
“It is important to know what Ryan is thinking and Sunderland control the situation because he is their player. They have a few injuries up front at the moment so they may want him back up there, we will have to wait and see.
“We would like to keep him around the place if we can as you can’t have enough strikers and options to call upon.”
Sunderland fans will have to act quickly if their team draws this week’s repeat fixture with Arsenal. This week’s game at the Stadium of Light is in the fifth round of the FA Cup.
Defying recent convention, a replay between the sides will be almost immediately.
The date has been set for a week today, with a 7.45pm kick-off. The match at the Emirates Stadium will be all-ticket.
Police usually insist on ten days’ notice for a replay, but because subsequent midweeks are taken by international fixtures and Arsenal’s Champions League visit of AC Milan, that rule has been waived.
In the event of a replay tickets – priced £35 for adults, £15 over-65s and £14 under-16s – will go on sale on Sunday from 10am-3pm, and Monday from 9am-7pm. They are available over the telephone as well as in person, but any tickets ordered this way must be collected at the ground from 4pm on matchday. ID will be required.
Loyalty points will not be awarded for those fans who travel to London at short notice. Replacements cannot be issued for any lost or damaged tickets.