SUNDERLAND will make one last attempt to spare Lee Cattermole from surgery.
The Black Cats captain will have to sit out today’s Premier League visit of Fulham as he continues to struggle with a knee problem troubling him since November. Cattermole has played just 59 minutes’ football since.
The Teessider will have an injection in the joint, hoping it avoids the need for him to go under the knife.
“The specialist in London, who has a very, very good reputation thinks – and I think it’s the way you would have approached it anyway – the last thing you want to do is talk about surgery where it might not even be needed,” manager Martin O’Neill revealed.
“If it doesn’t improve over the next couple of weeks, well fine. It is really Lee’s career we are talking about rather than a two or three-week period here that might satisfy us. In the long term it’s more important to get it right.
“Surgery has been mentioned but we will see. I wouldn’t start to draw too many conclusion from that at the moment, but that might be the case.”
And while there are doubts about Cattermole, those surrounding James McClean are of a different nature.
O’Neill was joking about Sunderland’s link-up with the Nelson Mandela Foundation when he said of the former South African president: “He said if McClean didn’t improve his performances he’d be coming out to play outside-left for us!”
But it was a joke with a point. McClean has struggled in his second season in the Premier League – the winger has not started since mid-January. His manager has ordered him to de-clutter his mind and focus on putting that right.
“I still believe now if he clears his head and starts to concentrate on the game, he can get back to where he was,” said O’Neill. “He was absolutely flying from January (2012) to the end of the season and I think he just thought ‘I’ll continue on like this,’ but you have to knuckle down, do a wee bit more work and think about it more.
“As a team we weren’t winning enough matches so form for most players with two big exceptions in Simon Mignolet and Steven Fletcher, probably suffered a little bit.
“But James was new last season, it was invigorating and exciting; he was trying to get into Republic of Ireland team. He hasn’t hit the same sort of form.”
The problem has been compounded by McClean’s unerring ability to attract internet controversy. Although O’Neill refuted suggestions McClean had been fined two weeks’ wages for expressing admiration for a pro-IRA song on Twitter, he told the winger to give social networking a rest for the rest of the season.
“I wish I was completely au fait with Twitter and tweeting but players have been made aware on more than occasion that they are not speaking to friends but a wider audience,” he said.
“James came off (Twitter) and he realises now he wants to really concentrate on the game. He felt he was but by coming off he can get himself back to where he was playing brilliantly for us this time last year.
“It (social networking) is part of life. There is no rule at any football club that prevents people from tweeting. You cannot, it is a social medium.
“We have a gentleman coming here in the next fortnight who can tell you all the ills and the woes about what might happen.
“He’s been here before for the younger boys but the senior guys need to have an eye on it. It will be a real eye-opener for me – I want to be in the meeting.
“I wouldn’t be on these things, but when you get somebody as intelligent as Stephen Fry going on saying ‘I got up this morning,’ and ‘I put on a cravat,’ maybe I should go on it!”