MARTIN O’Neill says he is delighted to see Stephane Sessegnon, James McClean and Adam Johnson all running into good form in recent weeks.
But he admits it has been a difficult balancing act in the first half of the season trying to get good results while at the same time steering his creative players back to their best.
O’Neill’s early season diagnosis on the trio – that Sessegnon was struggling for fitness after injury, that McClean was having to deal with the challenge of no longer being an unknown quantity to Premier League defences and that Johnson, who also suffered injury, was having to acclimatise himself to regularly playing 90 minutes – seems to have been borne out by their recent improvement.
The manager was always utterly convinced that all three would get better as the season went on and they adapted to their challenges.
But he says that the only way to get improvements was to keep on playing them through their struggles.
He said: “It is great to see them coming through again but the problem with all that there was always going to be the risk that while players were trying to get their own self-confidence going, the team itself might suffer.
“And I think that has been the case with us.
“We had to keep playing the players so they could improve but the difficulty was trying to get good results and performances while you were doing that.
“You need a balance and we have tried to strike it but it hasn’t been easy.
“While it’s fair enough that some players are doing everything they can to play themselves into form and attempting to do everything they can, you still try to need to win the games.
“And there’s no getting away from the fact that we have found it difficult to win games this season.”
Having seen signs of progress though, O’Neill is hoping Sunderland can now go on to have a much more successful second half of the season.
He said: “It is nice to see these players coming back to a level which we know they’re capable of.
“It’s nice to see them really performing now and the crowd enjoying it and hopefully it will continue from now on.
“There’s no doubt that when those sort of players are on form they make a big difference to the attacking threat we pose.”