SUNDERLAND manager, Martin O’Neill has challenged former Derry City winger, James McClean to let his feet do the talking and put recent controversy behind him.
The Creggan Heights lad hit the headlines for his on-field performances after bursting onto the scene last season, but this campaign it has been his off-the-field antics which have attracted attention, with his comments on ‘Twitter’ causing no shortage of controversy.
But McClean has again closed his account on the social networking site, and Sunderland boss O’Neill hopes the 23-year-old will now knuckle down and concentrate on reproducing the form he showed during his debut season.
“James has got to really settle down now – really settle down,” declared O’Neill. “And he’s got to start producing the type of form that brought him into the limelight, the sort of displays that brought him to prominence in the first place.
“Someone mentioned to me last weekend that he got a few boos from Sunderland fans when he came on against Fulham last weekend.
“Because my mind was so focused on the game itself, I wasn’t really plugged into what the fans were saying.
“But on the footballing side of things he’s got to give his game his full attention and aim to get back to making the sort of impact he was having on games which helped get him into the team in the first place.”
McClean made his Premier League debut in O’Neill’s first game in charge in December, 2011, and went on to play a huge part in the second half of the season as Sunderland climbed out of relegation danger with his form earning him international recognition and a place in Republic of Ireland’s Euro 2012 squad. But he has found the going much tougher in this, his second season.
“As a former player myself, I recognise the second season is always difficult,” added O’Neill.
“You can start off like a whirlwind like I did at Nottingham Forest, coming off the bench and scoring goals, especially I remember against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
“At the time, I thought ‘wow, this is an easy game,’ but then, inevitably, you hit a bad spell and the game is anything but easy. All you can do is fight back.”
While McClean possibly caught opposing defences off-guard in his debut season, Premier League full-backs are now paying close attention to the ex-”Candy Stripe.”
“In our game against Manchester City at the Etihad this season, Pablo Zabaleta instantly went to close James down and stuck with him from then on. Teams are aware of him and have been giving him special attention when he plays.
“But you have to combat that and fight through it and that’s what I expect James’ focus to be on from now on.”