Martin O'Neill ready to take some risks to end goalscoring drought

MARTIN O’Neill has promised to take risks in an attempt to end Sunderland’s goalscoring drought.

Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill
Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill

MARTIN O’Neill has promised to take risks in an attempt to end Sunderland’s goalscoring drought.

The Black Cats have not scored a goal of their own since September.

A Demba Ba own goal in the Wear-Tyne derby is the only strike to their credit in that period.

The reason why is not hard to fathom, with only 13 shots on target in nine Premier League matches this season.

It jars alongside a defensive record which is the division’s best.

O’Neill (pictured) takes offence at the suggestion he is a negative manager, but he was on the defensive after Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa.

“We have thrown everything in there,” O’Neill said of his and his players’ attempts to overturn Gabriel Agbonlahor’s first top-flight goal since November 5, 2011.

“There were countless times we had one-on-ones with our wingers. We are playing with wingers.

“We had so many attacking players on the field and I am not even talking about the team that finished, I am talking about the team that started.

“We have attacking players all over the pitch and you would think you would eke out a goal, but the most encouraging thing for me (against Villa) was the number of times we had one-on-ones, and that is what we strive for.”

There is no disputing O’Neill started with an attacking team, and added more forward-thinking players to it.

Paying Manchester City £10m for Adam Johnson has allowed him to play two genuine wingers in almost every Sunderland game this season.

On Saturday Johnson and Sebastian Larsson patrolled the flanks, with James McClean dropped to the bench. McClean was brought on as a second-half substitute, initially in his favoured left-wing position, then deeper at full-back as O’Neill tried to get as many attack-minded players on the field as possible in search of an equaliser.

Craig Gardner – the Wearsiders’ most productive goalscoring midfielder – was restored to his preferred starting position for the first time in a Premier League match this season thanks to the return of right-back Phil Bardsley.

Midfielder Jack Colback was selected ahead of Danny Rose on the opposite side of the defence and, like Bardsley, put in a couple of promising crosses.

As the game went on, centre-forwards Fraizer Campbell and Louis Saha were introduced at the expense of Bardsley and Stéphane Sessègnon.

The intent was certainly there, but the cutting edge painfully absent.

Sunderland’s only shot on target came after 84 minutes from holding midfielder Lee Cattermole.

Still, Brad Guzan’s solitary save was one more than Asmir Begovic had to make in the Wearsiders’ previous league game, at Stoke City.

One youngster has left on loan, while another has returned.

Central defender John Egan has joined League Two Bradford City until January 5.

The Republic of Ireland Under-21 international could make his debut at home to Chesterfield this evening.

It is a step down for the 20-year-old, whose previous loans have come with Championship side Crystal Palace and League One Sheffield United.

Egan only played once in the league for each during month-long loans last season, but with fit centre-backs thin on the ground at Valley Parade, opportunities should be greater there.

Egan impressed on Sunderland’s pre-season tour of South Korea, to the extent that he was handed squad number 42 for the campaign proper.

He is yet to make his competitive debut for the club, however. Ryan Noble has returned from a seven-game stint with League One Hartlepool United in which he scored once in seven games.

The 21-year-old striker had a big fan in Hartlepool manager Neale Cooper, who temporarily took him the previous season too.

But the Scot has since resigned as manager and with a replacement still to be appointed, his loan has not been extended.

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