MARTIN O’Neill has made it clear to his players that many of them are playing for their Sunderland futures over the final weeks of this season.
With a busy summer of signings ahead of the Black Cats, the manager wants to see the club’s players, both on the fringes and in the first-team, to prove to him that they are good enough to be kept on for next season.
O’Neill has never been a fan of squad rotation, however, he would like to make changes over the last four league games, starting at Aston Villa next weekend.
Although there is not as much scope as he would like as, not for the first time, he made mention of the fact that in his opinion there are not enough young players good enough to be knocking on the first-team door.
Sunderland looked like a side who were ready for the end of the season during Saturday’s home draw with bottom of the table Wolves.
However, while O’Neill did not accept the players were already on their holidays, he still issued a timely reminder that for Sunderland to move forward, changes will need to made in pre-season and that could mean some of the current squad exiting the Stadium of Light.
He said: “I don’t want to see the end of the season. The performance at the weekend would suggest that (the players do), but I don’t really want to believe that myself and I genuinely don’t believe that.
“But we were off the mark against Wolves. We have to keep giving the players occasional reminders during the week.
“Interestingly, from my viewpoint, I know players are always fighting for places, but there are one or two positions here where they could cement a
place of next season, or the opposite might happen. We stuck with them (in January) and they were terrific, but it’s time to move on.
“I heard Harry Redknapp saying recently that if Tottenham want to improve they have to press on again and improve the squad. So if you drop that down a peg or two then it definitely applies to us.
“We have players who haven’t started much like young Ji Dong-won and Connor Wickham.
“We have Wayne Bridge and Sotirios Kyrgiakos on loan, while Ahmed Elmohamaday is in Dubai getting a couple of games with Egypt, so I will give them all some consideration over the next week or so. I sound like an old record saying the same things, but sometimes you have to deserve your chance and whoever comes in I hope gives us the freshness and vitality that was missing on Saturday.”
O’Neill (pictured below) did single out Stéphane Sessègnon for praise as he was the only Sunderland player on Saturday who looked as if he realised there was still something to play for.
The manager said: “Sess was the one player who provided us with a spark. I thought, on Saturday, that he was the one spark and he might have ignited things for us.”
Wolves manager Terry Connor saw his team record their first clean sheet for 31 games at the weekend. At least the Midlands side gave their manager a bit of fight in the 0-0 draw, and he continued to publicly give out an optimistic outlook on what is a desperate situation.
Connor said: “Is it hard not to stop believing? It’s not easy but you’ve got to it. If there is the slightest bit of defeatism around the place, then that won’t do and the players will pick up on that.
“Every Monday morning you come back in, dust yourself down and make sure you are in nice and early. You have to pick up the positives from your DVD work and stress those to the players.
“Of course, we have to put things right that have gone wrong and I think at last, we have got some reward for the work we have put in in last five or six weeks.”