O'Neill backing McClean to perform
Martin O'Neill remains hopeful that winger James McClean can transfer his recent good form at international level onto the pitch for Sunderland.
McClean, 23, enjoyed a meteoric rise in his first season with the club after making his debut under O'Neill in December 2011. However, his second season has been littered with difficulties and the Ireland international has struggled for form.
But despite been booed on the pitch in recent weeks, the Sunderland boss believes the former Derry City player has the mental toughness to succeed and can take confidence from his recent displays on the international scene.
"James has been doing well and he looks as if he's got a bit of refreshment," O'Neill told the Sunderland Echo. "Over the course of the season, I think he'll be a wee bit disappointed with some of his performances. But he's got that hunger and determination to do well so between now and the end of the season, it's a great opportunity for him. I'm not sure he lost his appetite, but he definitely lost a bit of confidence.
"I didn't see the Sweden game live, but I got the DVD which I watched yesterday afternoon. And I watched a lot of the game against Austria on Tuesday. It was good to see him do well in that game. It probably will give him a boost of confidence to start a competitive game for his country. Obviously, him and John [O'Shea] will be a bit down from the late equaliser which was really avoidable. But they have to put the international matches on the back-burner and concentrate on our form."
Sunderland host Manchester United on Saturday in a game that represents the first of four difficult fixtures for the side. With trips to Chelsea and Newcastle coming prior to a visit from Everton, few have tipped the club to secure many points during April.
Titus Bramble, however, says the Black Cats have not written off any of their remaining eight games.
"We need to get points because we're not out of it yet and the sooner we get them the better," he told the Sunderland Echo. "We cannot afford to assume any of these games coming up are games where we won't get anything - no matter how difficult they may look. It is surprising how often you can pick up points from games you least expect - that's the beauty of football and I've seen it happen so many times.
"We have to make sure we don't worry about the quality of the opposition. We just have to look to ourselves because we have some fantastic players in our squad, players who are capable of winning games for us on any given day."