JAMES McClean expects opponents Southampton to view Saturday’s game against Sunderland as a good chance to move up the Premier League, but after the confidence boost of the last week, the winger thinks the Black Cats can do likewise.
While the Saints were having a week off, Sunderland won one and lost one of their matches. And, while in league table terms the 3-1 defeat at Manchester United undid the good work of beating Reading, McClean (pictured left) thinks his team-mates left Old Trafford better off.
Completely outplayed in the opening half-hour, Sunderland gave as good as they got in the second half. That, says McClean, has put them in good heart for a long trip to the south coast.
“I’m sure Southampton will be looking at us and thinking the same as we will think about them – that we have a chance,” said the Republic of Ireland winger.
“We are both down there, we just have to make sure we go to Southampton and put in a big shift and come back with the result. It’s pretty clear the confidence is still flying around the place because we went to Old Trafford and created lots of chances.
“That in itself is something all clubs should take with them if they can do that against Manchester United.” Saints are
above the relegation zone on goal difference, a point behind Sunderland with a game in hand having sat out the last round of fixtures because Chelsea were at the Club World Championships.
“Southampton have been down there around us, they have been a bit like us, inconsistent, so it will be a difficult game, we know that,” McClean reflected.
“It’s a big game but I think we can go there full of confidence where we might not have been able to a few weeks ago. Things have definitely been looking better for us and we just have to continue in that frame of mind.”
McClean’s recent performances have mirrored those of the team – better, but still way below the highs of last season.
After opening the scoring against Reading, he forced two good saves from David de Gea at Old Trafford.
“I know full well I did not have the best starts to the season but in the last few weeks I have become more confident and I’m starting to enjoy my football again,” he reflected. “If I can get somewhere near to where I was last season I’m sure I can help the team climb up the table.”
Another whose confidence is on the rise is Connor Wickham, a second-half substitute against the Red Devils.
Wickham (pictured below) was completely ignored by O’Neill at the start of the season, but an enterprising 45-minute showing at Carrow Road earned him the chance of another in Manchester. He took it well, contributing to Sunderland’s improved display.
Wickham, who will be needed at St Mary’s if Steven Fletcher fails to recover from Saturday’s back injury, puts his improvement down to better conditioning.
“I feel stronger and fitter than I have ever before,” he told the club’s website. “Not being in the squad made me determined to come back stronger. I think my performances this season have been much better than previous.”
Meanwhile, on-loan left-back Blair Adams is hoping to extend his stay at League One Coventry City beyond January.
“I’m loving my time here – it’s been brilliant to be playing every week and this is a team on the up,” said Adams.