MARTIN O’Neill is interested in signing free agent James McFadden because he doubts James McClean and Adam Johnson can get through the season unscathed.
Right-sider Johnson has already picked up a thigh injury this term while with England. Fellow winger McClean is experiencing his first full season of Premier League football, and provided last month’s Twitter outburst has not burnt his bridges too spectacularly, can expect to be a regular in the Republic of Ireland set-up too.
Sebastian Larsson provides cover, but O’Neill’s comments suggest he sees a regular central midfield role for the Swede.
McFadden, who can play wide or at centre-forward, was released by Everton at the end of last season. O’Neill is keen to sign the 29-year-old after a two-week trial but with his agent in America, the matter is dragging on.
“I think I am going to speak to his agent and hoping we can come up with something. It is encouraging,” he said.
“Adam’s been injured already and it will be hard for him to go through the season and stay fit, and the same goes for James.
“Apart from them we have no real width to see us through.
“Because we don’t have the numbers, I would be slightly concerned about that.
“He (McFadden)’s had Premier League experience. There was a period where he was doing very well, and he did well against us for Everton last season.
“If he gets properly fit he can help us. I think it will be good for him. I would look to do it until the end of the season.”
Larsson has been swapping between central midfield and his more usual station on the right, depending on Johnson’s fitness.
“Seb can play both positions,” O’Neill commented. “When he is wide for us defensively he does a lot of work infield anyway. He kind of breaks wide. Playing centrally will help him to get used to that.”
McFadden played in a behind-closed-doors friendly against Middlesbrough at Hurworth yesterday, organised to give Phil Bardsley match practice on his return from injury.
Bardsley is also expected to feature in Monday’s reserve-team fixture against Stoke as he recovers from an ankle problem picked up on the first day of pre-season.
His absence has pressed midfielder Craig Gardner into service at right-back. O’Neill, who occasionally used him there at Aston Villa, thinks Gardner has come round to the idea of playing there.
“He is a stronger and better player now and less daunted by it,” he reflected. “He used to feel wingers were coming at him left, right and centre.
“He scores goals from midfield, that is a big strength. He can get double figures for us. He has a great shot, no back-lift and hits the ball as hard as anyone.”
Carlos Cuellar and Wes Brown returned to training yesterday, though the latter is some way off playing again. Meanwhile, O’Neill was pleased to see Steven Fletcher patch up his differences with Scotland manager Craig Levein, even if it will give him another player to fret over during the international break.
Fletcher texted the Scotland management in 2010 asking not to be considered for selection after being left out of European Championship qualifiers against Czech Republic and Spain. He did not speak to Levein in the interim, but after five goals in his first four Premier League appearances for Sunderland, the manager has relented.
“I am delighted Steven is back in for Scotland,” said the former Celtic boss. “He is pleased to be back and it is good news for Scotland. I hope he comes back in one piece. I want Scotland to pick up a bit having been there for five years. I like them to do well.”