MARTIN O’Neill has hinted he will treat Adam Johnson’s slump in form differently to that of fellow winger James McClean.
Neither has reached the heights Sunderland fans were expecting this season. Hampered by injury, Johnson has been unable to justify the £10m the Black Cats paid Manchester City for him in August.
McClean has been unable to recreate the form of his first season in English football, which catapulted him into the Republic of Ireland’s Euro 2012 squad.
O’Neill’s strategy with McClean has been to take him out of the firing line. The 2-1 defeat at Everton was the only one of the last six matches he has started. Johnson, by contrast has begun every game he has been fit for this season.
“Nobody is guaranteed a place in the side,” said O’Neill ahead of tomorrow’s Premier League trip to Norwich City.
“That is what you hope to work for eventually at a club, but we are not in that position. We have not got a big enough squad and we don’t have that many choices, but even if we did have, sometimes players have to play their way out of it.
“Over the course of a season Adam Johnson will be successful.”
Johnson scored an expertly taken volley at Goodison Park last month, and followed it with a beautiful pass for Steven Fletcher to score at Fulham. But in the two subsequent home games he was again below his best, and he was substituted in the latter stages of Tuesday’s 0-0 draw with bottom-of-the-Premier League Queens Park Rangers.
O’Neill thinks psychology is behind the Easington-born winger’s difficult start to life back in the North East.
“It is all about confidence,” he reflected. “If you analyse his form, it is not fantastically surprising.