DESCRIBING Stéphane Sessègnon as an out-and-out striker might be stretching the point, says Sunderland boss Steve Bruce, but his ability up front will come in handy for the remainder of the season.
The Benin midfielder arrived on Wearside in January from Paris-Saint Germain and it would be fair to say that the settling-in process has been slow.
While odd flashes of brilliance have surfaced, the frenetic pace of the Premier League has caught the 26-year-old off guard as play has whizzed around him.
Admittedly players more used to a slower tempo need time to acclimatise, but Sunderland’s injury crisis and poor run of form prior to last weekend had the occasional terrace barracker demanding he get up to speed.
Then, during last week’s match against Wigan, circumstance dictated that with no strikers, Bruce move Sessègnon and fellow midfielder Steed Malbranque up front and with the former in particular it paid off as he scored one and showed great vision to set up Jordan Henderson for his second goal in the 4-2 win.
Players stumbling into a new position due to an injury crisis is nothing new – one famous example being Henrik Larsson being drafted in from the right wing at Celtic when ex-Newcastle striker Darren Jackson took ill and the Swede never looked back, scoring a barrowload for the Parkhead side.
While it is too early to predict a similar future for Sessègnon, his display last weekend does show his manager that there is an extra option in his locker if he needs to use it. Bruce said: “One of the reasons we brought Sessègnon in is that he can play in a variety of different positions. I don’t think he’s ever been an out-and-out number nine, but we’re stretching him on the stretching machines at the minute and hoping that he can be the new Didier Drogba.
“We’re calling him little ‘Precious McKenzie’ (after the renowned South African weight-lifter). I can remember him, but I’m not sure some of the rest of the lads can.
“That’s what we’ve nicknamed him, but he can play in a variety of different positions and that’s a bonus. When you bring someone like that in from abroad, it’s nice to be able to give them six or seven weeks to bed in. We haven’t been able to do that, but I think he’s starting to come to terms with things. He was excellent against Birmingham as well, and he’s produced some good performances even though the team hasn’t been winning.”
It seems certain that Bruce will continue with Sessègnon and Malbranque up front for tomorrow’s home fixture at the Stadium of Light against Fulham and the Wearsiders’ boss is convinced that what they have to offer gives more than enough reason as to why the partnership can work.
He added: “I think Sessègnon and Malbranque have good experience. They’re not the biggest players but they can cause a few problems in different ways. They caused Wigan all sorts of problems, with Sessègnon’s pace and Malbranque playing in behind him. It worked well last week and I haven’t got many other options, so that’s probably what I’ll go with.
“If we put the ball up around head height it will come straight back, so we’ll have to make sure we play it on the floor and pass the ball as quickly as we can.
“We’ll try to hurt them with our movement, and try to get our midfield players running from deep. That’s what we’ve been working on all week. We haven’t got a recognised striker, but we managed to score four goals last weekend.
“Stéphane relished the role last week. I didn’t bring him to play as an out-and-out centre-forward, but he’s extremely comfortable playing as an attacker and he has wonderful technique.”