MARTIN O’Neill is calling on James McClean to make headlines for the right reasons from now on.
The patience of the Black Cats’ boss has been sorely tested by the 23-year-old’s latest Twitter transgression which provoked articles on both sides of the Irish Sea.
But O’Neill hopes that the steep learning curve is over for the winger, and he will now fully focus on his football.
“James has got to really settle down now,” the Sunderland manager told SportMail. “Really settle down.
“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.
“Because my mind was so fixed 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.”
O’Neill has sympathy with the former Derry City winger, having experienced ‘second-season syndrome’ himself during his playing days at Nottingham Forest.
But he says McClean – who impressed when he came on against the Cottagers last week – has to devote all his energies to terrorising defences like he did in O’Neill’s first few months in charge.
“As a player myself, I can recognise that’s easier said than done,” he accepted.
“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.
“What I recall in James’s case was our last game at the Etihad, where Pablo Zabaleta instantly went to close him down and stuck with him from then on.
“Now Zabaleta is a top-quality player, one of the very best, and maybe the season before he would have given James more room when he knew nothing about him.
“But this time he was fully aware of the potential threat, and he gave him very close attention – he was going to make sure James was not going to get the better of him.
“And that’s the sort of thing that James is up against this season.
“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’s focus to be on from now on.”