New Sunderland manager Martin O’Neill has made getting the best out of striker Nicklas Bendtner one of his key priorities.
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The Dane moved to the Stadium of Light this summer on a season-long loan from Arsenal but has so far failed to have a major impact and has managed only two goals.
Trouble finding the net is the main reason Sunderland finds itself embroiled in the struggle at the foot of the table having managed only 16 goals in 14 Barclays Premier League matches.
O’Neill appreciates it may have taken Bendtner some time to get used to playing for a new club, and he is a doubt for Sunday’s crunch clash against Blackburn (live on FOX Soccer Plus, 8:30 a.m. ET) with a groin injury, but the manager is determined to help the 23-year-old realise his potential.
"I think that is paramount," said the Black Cats boss. "He has a lot of natural talent. He wasn’t always in the starting line-up at Arsenal. They have allowed him to come up here and now it’s an important time for him.
"This season is one where he can come through, he can score some goals. He obviously might have to adapt to a different style of play in the sense that Arsenal have the ball all the time in the vast majority of matches, even against the very best teams.
"With respect, we might not have it as often so you have to allow him to adjust but essentially he has to try to get some goals."
Midfielder Craig Gardner, a summer signing from Birmingham, has also been a disappointment thus far and was in and out of the team under Bruce.
He is a player O’Neill knows well from his Aston Villa days and the Northern Irishman is hoping Gardner and other players who have been on the sidelines can begin to play a full part.
O’Neill said: "I sold Craig to Birmingham but the players who were keeping Craig out of the team were all England internationals, so it was going to be hard for Craig to play, and he wanted to play first-team football.
"But he is genuinely a terrific lad and he can score a goal, and I’m sure he’s relishing the challenge ahead of him again. That would go for a couple of other players who also played (on Thursday) in the reserves.
"Titus Bramble, for example, and David Vaughan, for them just getting an opportunity to get a bit more football in was good.
"And it’s important for me to have as many players available as possible. We have one or two that have struggled with injuries but hopefully in the near future we can get these people on the pitch."
While O’Neill is desperately hoping Sunday will bring a different result after a run of only one point from four matches, one thing he does not expect to change is the attitude of the players.
"I think that would be really unfair on Steve Bruce’s time here to start talking about a change of attitude," he said.
"I always hate that when you leave a football club and the next thing you know somebody who hasn’t played for the last few weeks because generally speaking he hasn’t been good enough has then come out and criticised the manager and said now is his chance. "I’ve seen it and experienced it in the past and that sort of thing I would stay well clear of. I think the attitude of the players has always been pretty decent."
O’Neill has several injury concerns ahead of the visit of Blackburn.
Bendtner has not trained all week because of a groin problem while defender Phil Bardsley has suffered a recurrence of an ankle injury, but O’Neill is hopeful both will be available.
Midfielder Lee Cattermole misses out through suspension after picking up five yellow cards along with striker Connor Wickham (knee) and goalkeepers Simon Mignolet (fractured nose and eye socket) and Craig Gordon (knee).
Martin Olsson will have a fitness test on Saturday to see if he can make the Blackburn squad.
Olsson has been out with a hamstring and Ruben Rochina is also doubtful.
He suffered a muscle injury and has been recovering this week after having his wisdom teeth removed.
Steven Nzonzi serves the final game of his three-match suspension while Ryan Nelsen is still short of match fitness.