Martin O'Neill plays down injury concern over Sunderland winger Adam Johnson

 

Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill has played down the severity of midfielder Adam Johnson's injury ahead of Saturday's Barclays Premier League trip to West Ham but will not rush him back into the side in a bid to win much-needed points.

Johnson sat out Sunderland's 1-1 draw against Liverpool last weekend after he picked up a thigh injury during his call up to the England squad.

The 25-year-old, who moved to the Stadium of Light this summer from Manchester City, is joined on the sidelines by defender Carlos Cuellar, at a time when the Black Cats need a full strength squad as they aim to secure their first league win of the season.

"We were hoping that he [Johnson] would have made the fixture last weekend against Liverpool but that wasn't the case," O'Neill said.

"He's progressing but it's too difficult or too early to say for this weekend from his viewpoint.

"We thought he might have made it for Liverpool, but on Friday morning he was still feeling it having trained on Thursday and not done so badly.

"Rather than risking him, we left it another week, I was reasonably hopeful last week, maybe this extra week will help but I couldn't be certain.

"Carlos Cuellar has had a hamstring problem so I think he will be very doubtful for not just this game but the next couple of matches, so from that viewpoint it's a bit disconcerting but you just have to get on with it."

O'Neill's side currently have three points to show from draws against Arsenal, Swansea and Liverpool, with their match against Reading called off due to a waterlogged pitch.

It has left them much lower down the table than O'Neill would have liked, and while they have a game in hand, the Sunderland boss wants to get the first win under his belt.

"It is important to win games in the Premier league because if you start falling behind it's a long road back," O'Neill said.

"We've got three points in the first three games and all three matches have presented difficulties.

"Away at Arsenal it was a tough opening day of the season to get something out of there, especially considering how they are playing now, Swansea were flying very high at that time and Liverpool are a tough game either home or away.

"It would be nice to win a game but we will do that in due course."

However, O'Neill is not panicking just yet.

He said: "It's too early to talk about catch up but we're a game behind at the moment, and until we play that game we are always going to be behind.

"I would say after 15 or 16 games, if you have played 16 matches and some have played 17 in the scheme of things it doesn't seem that important.

"At this stage of the season, just getting those early points on the board do mean a lot to clubs so just having that fixture behind means you feel like you're catching up."

O'Neill also admitted his side need to start producing goals from different areas of the pitch instead of just relying on the strikers, and while he was quick to praise new attacker Steven Fletcher, the Black Cats manager is not concerned about the early form of Stephane Sessegnon.

"It's probably too early to draw major conclusions from three game but he [Sessegnon] hasn't reached those heights [of last season] yet for a number of reasons," O'Neill said.

"In the course of time, Sessegnon, who has proved his ability certainly in the last four or five months of last season, has been excellent for us and certainly when things are going well for him he's a major threat to the opposition.

"When things aren't going so well he's a bit frustrated with things. I can see his ability and I don't have any major worries on that score."

PA

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