AFTER brilliantly showcasing what he can do for Sunderland, Stephane Sessegnon has been told to do it more often.
The Benin international was terrific under Martin O’Neill last season, but has rarely hit those heights this.
The second half against Arsenal on Saturday, when he caused the Gunners untold problems on the left of a front three, saw a welcome return to top form. But O’Neill has told Sessègnon he has not done it enough this term.
“This lad, for the ability he possesses, should score double figures in a season,” he said. “Into the penalty area, he’s beating players and he should do better.
“He should finish them off because he can be mesmeric. When he dummies inside to come in, he’s coming across the box, he does it in training sessions time and time again, he should just drop the shoulder, come inside and have the shot.” Sessègnon has just three goals and two assists this season, having netted eight times last.
“He scores in training,” said O’Neill. “It’s frustrating because this boy could be priceless if he could do that part of the game. It’s when he’s got that bit of space and there’s not miles to go and I’m talking 30 yards outside the penalty area, maybe even less, but when he’s taking players on I always fancy him to beat them.”
Sessègnon’s dribbling caused Arsenal so many problems Carl Jenkinson brought him down in the 62nd minute to earn a second yellow card. It allowed the Black Cats to ratchet up the pressure to the point where a side that had been cruising to victory in the first half was forced to cling to a 1-0 win in the second.
It is not just Sessègnon who O’Neill hopes can replicate Saturday’s second 45 minutes, but his team as a whole. Playing well in patches has been an infuriating feature of the season.
“We’ve got to aim for that sort of intensity,” said the manager.
“The very best teams give (the ball) away but if the crowd feel there is an intensity about your game, I honestly believe they will forgive those things and I thought that’s how it was on Saturday.
“It’s about trying to get this consistency at a higher level than sometimes is on view.
“Anybody who witnessed the last three games and particularly our performance against Swansea might not have recognised this side.
“This is something we really have to impress upon. It’s hard work and if that means we have to be fitter than any other team in the country then so be it.
“It wasn’t just a charge in the last five minutes. We built up momentum in the second half and even before the sending off I felt we were really starting to get a grip of the game.
“Arsenal were still going to be dangerous and they had one or two shots that blazed over the bar, but in fairness as we were pressing forward there was always that possibility. It’s tough to take, I must admit.”
While one of the stalwarts of Sunderland’s season was in tremendous form to keep his side in the game when Arsenal dominated, the other was off-key to stop the Black Cats capitalising when they did.
Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet made a series of saves in the first 45 minutes, but in the second Steven Fletcher put a good chance wide and had two saved. The first opportunity most frustrated O’Neill.
“I was chastising Alfred N’Diaye the previous Saturday, he missed an opportunity that might have got us the three points against Reading because he put it wide at the near post,” he recalled.
“I wasn’t expecting my expert centre-forward to do the same.”
The biggest disappointments for Sunderland were that Danny Rose suffered a recurrence of a hamstring strain, while Lee Cattermole came off at half-time partly to protect him from a second yellow card, but also because he continues to be troubled by pain in his knee.