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O'Neill to persevere with star; Off-form Johnson keeps place.

MARTIN O'Neill has hinted he will treat Adam Johnson's slump in form differently to that of fellow winger James McClean, writes STUART RAYNER.

Neither has reached the heights Sunderland fans were expecting this season. Hampered by injury, Johnson has been unable to justify the PS10m 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. "He had a cameo role at Man City and was playing with really great players, coming on for a 15-minute spell and not having to worry about defending because others in the City side would take care of that for him.

"He has come to us and he is an integral player in our team and he has to adjust to that. That takes a little bit of time. "He did remarkably well when Stewart Downing left Middlesbrough and got his move to Man City. Adam has more than enough natural talent to be success'ful. We will see what happens." Sunderland will be without captain Lee Cattermole and more than likely vicecaptain John O'Shea, who has a calf strain, for the trip to East Anglia. Cattermole was in London yesterday to see a specialist about the knee injury picked up against QPR. His absence leaves Sunderland light on ball-winning midfielders, and with them soon able to recall David Meyler from his loan spell with Steve Bruce's Hull City, O'Neill admitted it was a situation he is looking at.

"I have been keeping an eye on him," he said. "I've seen his games on DVD. I'll have to look at that. The 28-day period of the loan is soon going to be up, and it's something we'll have to have a look at. We'll look at all sorts of options." Sunderland have been working hard on shooting in training, having been remarkably timid in that respect during the early part of the season. But O'Neill has warned his players the- onot have licence simply to shoot from anywhere. "We're doing more and more of it in training," he revealed. "But there's shooting and shooting for the sake of shooting. "We had a couple of shots from outside the penalty area - notably by our two fullbacks (Phil Bardsley and Danny Rose) - against Queens Park Rangers that I believe would have been better suited if we'd taken it a few more yards in before we'd even attempted that shot."
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 1, 2012
Words:632
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