O’Neill keeps McClean in firing line

Martin O’Neill will resist any temptation to take James McClean out of the firing line in a significant vote of confidence for Sunderland’s Republic of Ireland midfielder.

McClean is set to play his 15th consecutive game since earning a first start on New Year’s Day, as the Wearside club travel to Everton today bidding to earn a place in the FA Cup semi-finals for the first time since 2004.

The 22-year-old has enjoyed a meteoric rise since arriving from Derry City seven months ago, getting his debut from O’Neill before Christmas and getting international recognition from Giovanni Trapattoni.

Despite both the physical and mental strains of McClean’s welcome though unexpected extended run in the side so early into his Sunderland career, O’Neill is in little doubt he will again be able to count on the young Irishman as the visitors go in search of their first win at Goodison Park for 14 years.

O’Neill insisted: “James is holding out very well, both physically and mentally. I’m mindful that it’s been a whirlwind situation for him, and also I’m mindful of the demands on him, but we haven’t got the resources to replace him in that position.

“When he’s not going forward, he’s the type of player who’ll still do defensively well by tucking in. I’ve not seen a left-winger getting as involved defensively for a long time, and I think he can kick on.”

O’Neill’s arrival in December coincided with John O’Shea’s switch from right-back to his more preferred central defensive role. The move has proved significant in helping Sunderland to victory in 11 of the Northern Irishman’s 18 games in charge, an impressive run that’s seen them climb out of the relegation zone to sit eighth, in addition to being two wins away from their first FA Cup final for 20 years.

“It can be hard for players who’ve been at a big club for a long time to move on like John has,” O’Neill said of the former Manchester United star. “There’s a personal pressure to do well, but he’s just done that and has earned tremendous respect from his teammates for the way he’s played.”


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