MARTIN O’Neill says he will take James McClean out of the firing line every now and then if he feels it will help the Irish winger adapt to the challenges he is facing this season.
The Sunderland boss handed the former Derry City wide-man his first-team debut in his very first game in charge of the Black Cats, and McClean responded by transforming the game against Blackburn Rovers last December.
Since then, McClean has played virtually every game he has been available for under O’Neill.
But that has changed recently after a dip in form from the 23-year-old.
McClean was back in the starting line-up for the game at Everton last weekend and played well but in the previous two games – against Aston Villa in the league and Middlesbrough in the cup – he suffered the rare experience of starting the matches on the substitutes’ bench.
O’Neill says those decisions have all been taken in a bid to help the emerging talent through a difficult spell.
He told the Gazette: “I’ve still no doubt that James will come through an interesting time in his career and be absolutely fine.
“I think sometimes the substitutes’ bench is maybe my way of rotating.
“We don’t have the same facility to rotate as maybe some of the bigger clubs do.
“But sometimes, maybe just stepping out of it and having a look at it from the outside can refresh you and get you going again.
“I can’t even call it a rest because he has come on both games.”
O’Neill says that ideally, McClean would have several more breaks from the first team as he looks to develop his career in the most favourable conditions.
“There might have been a time or two towards the back end of last season where I might have thought taking him out, about giving him a break.
“But we didn’t really have the personnel to be able to afford to do that.
“I’m not saying that we are necessarily in that much better position as far as that goes this year.
“But the point I’m making is that, just for a little while, a chance to take a breather can help you come back refreshed.
“Over the course of the season though, I’ve got no doubt he’ll come through it. No doubt at all.
“We’ve just got to do everything we can as management and coaches to help smooth his way as much as possible.”