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Johnson injury still a concern for Sunderland
MARTIN O'NEILL fears £12m winger Adam Johnson could also miss this Saturday's trip to West Ham United admitting the Sunderland winger has had a set-back in his recovery from a thigh problem.
Johnson had been confident of shrugging off the injury in time to face Liverpool at the Stadium of Light on Saturday, only to miss the 1-1 draw after suffering a recurrence in training.
Now O'Neill, who suggested his team “missed his trickery” against the Reds, will be looking for his medical staff to work on him in the hope he will be available to play at Upton Park this weekend.
“I don’t know, I really don’t know,” said O'Neill. “We were hoping he would have made it for the Liverpool game, he did a little bit on Thursday and didn’t feel any sort of ill effects on it at all, then on Friday he pulled up after a minute or two, so I really just don’t know. It was a blow to us, because we were hoping he could make it.”
Johnson had to pull out of the England squad for the World Cup qualifiers with Moldova and Ukraine after suffering the thigh problem in training with Roy Hodgson's squad.
The former Manchester City winger, who had played in the previous two matches following his £12m move in August, is a significant loss for O'Neill who has Sunderland set-up to make the most of his wing-play.
Without him the Black Cats are not too similar to last season, although with Steven Fletcher starting life on Wearside with three goals in two Premier League starts the manager is optimistic Sunderland will be better than last season – provided he can play his best players regularly.
“The answer is that I don’t know if we are better equipped, I really don’t,” said O'Neill, who also has to check on the groin and hamstring inuries which forced Danny Rose and Carlos Cuellar off early against Liverpool. “I think it’s a long season and at the moment we have our own set of problems. That’s up to us to try to resolve.
“I’m obviously delighted with Fletcher and delighted that we’ve been able to get Adam Johnson in, I think we’ve missed him because he’s able to give us that extra something which we just don’t possess in abundance here.
“And even the players’ we’ve brought in on frees, (Louis) Saha and Cuellar, I”m really pleased with them and I think Rose will get better. But we’ve also lost a few players, too, and we need the major players to stay fit - that’s the most important thing. If they do, then we’ll be OK.”
One of the biggest problems facing O'Neill at the moment is ensuring Stephane Sessegnon recaptures the sort of form that persuaded his boss to hand him a new contract last month rather than sell him.
Sessegnon, who missed the majority of pre-season through injury, has not looked himself in the opening few weeks of the season and that was evident again when Liverpool left the Stadium of Light with a point.
And O'Neill said: “It’s just not happening for him at the moment. Some of things you can put down to lack of fitness, other things you can put down to not brilliant play, really.
“Some of the things you expect of him, like being able to keep the ball not giving it away early in the game, wouldn’t have anything to do with fitness, you know. He just needs to get sharper in every aspect, sharper in fitness and sharper in the brain, because we know what he’s capable of doing. It’s been a tough old time for him.”