Adam Johnson will make his Sunderland debut against League Two Morecambe tomorrow night as manager Martin O’Neill launches a new phase of his mission on Wearside.
The 25-year-old England winger, who joined the club from Manchester City in a move understood to have cost them around £12m on Friday, signed too late to have been involved in Saturday’s Barclays Premier League clash with Reading had it gone ahead.
Steven Fletcher, whose similarly expensive transfer from Wolves had been sealed a few hours earlier, was in the squad at the weekend before torrential rain forced a postponement, but O’Neill believes Johnson is at a more advanced stage in terms of match fitness.
Asked if both will feature in the Capital One Cup second-round tie at the Stadium of Light, he said: “That depends.
“Adam, with playing for England, his fitness is fine and a lot more advanced than Steven Fletcher.
“In fairness, Adam wanted to get things sorted on Friday, but the timing for Saturday just beat us.
“I think for him, it would be a great opportunity. He will be playing.”
O’Neill and owner and chairman Ellis Short have worked hard all summer to get their men, with the pursuit of Fletcher in particular developing into something of a saga.
However, they eventually managed to prise the 25-year-old Scotland international away from the relegated Black County club after they finally accepted the last in a series of bids with barely a week of the summer transfer window remaining.
The chase for Johnson was less protracted and less complicated with City looking to move him on after it became apparent that he no longer had a major part to play in manager Roberto Mancini’s plans.
O’Neill was thrilled to have landed his two major targets and is convinced they, coupled with experienced Frenchman Louis Saha, will give his team the attacking threat they have lacked in the last 18 months.
He said: “Fletcher gives us a bit of a new dimension. I would love to promise that we will score a lot more goals with the two in the team, but I do get the impression that we will create more chances.
“Johnson is a very exciting player. He just needs more encouragement to keep going.
“He is the type of player I love – someone who takes opponents on. I used to do it myself – without great success.”
O’Neill admitted after Saturday’s game was called off that he would have to have a re-think about his selection for tomorrow night’s game, hinting he may not have made too many changes to the side which would have started against the Royals.
The cup competitions will once again be a significant focus for the Black Cats this season with the manager still ruing the opportunity which got away during the last campaign when they managed to bring Everton back to Wearside for an FA Cup quarter-final replay, but simply did not turn up and lost 2-0.
O’Neill said: “The cup tie is very important for us. We had a taste for the cup last year and the atmosphere that night against Everton in the replay was extraordinary.
“It showed just what it means to the people here. We would love to do well.
“We have a home tie and really want to make the most of it. We just want to give it a real go and show people what we want to do.
“I have not had the chance to see Morecambe myself, but we have reports and we will look at video coverage of them.
“We want to do really well in the cup competitions.”