O'NEILL KEEN TO SEE FRINGE PLAYERS
Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill will spend the remaining weeks of the season assessing the depth of his squad before planning a summer shake-up.
The Ulsterman has presided over a hugely encouraging recovery since taking charge in January, and although recent results have been disappointing, he has guided the club to a comfortable mid-table position and to within striking distance of seventh place in the Barclays Premier League.
Anything better than the 10th place in which the Black Cats finished last season would represent a satisfactory conclusion to a campaign which started in such disappointing fashion, but O'Neill knows there is still much work to be done.
He has already been linked with a series of potential summer transfer targets - Wolves striker Steven Fletcher and West Brom midfielder Keith Andrews were on Wednesday added to a growing list of names with speculation already mounting.
However, O'Neill will first hope to cast an eye over some of the men who have played only peripheral roles during his tenure to date, the likes of strikers Connor Wickham and Ji Dong-won, midfielder David Meyler and some of the club's younger players.
He said: "For us to strengthen, of course, we would have to look at it.
"I wouldn't mind some of the younger players who probably under match conditions, I maybe don't know enough about - of course, I watch them in training every single day here - but I would like to see them maybe get a little bit more match-time.
"How do you approach that with trying to get results at the same time?
"Obviously, I would like anybody who steps into the side to be there on merit, but I do have these considerations to make.
"No matter how young you are or no matter how old you are, you have to deserve to be in the side.
"It's a balancing act at the moment where I have got to just maybe look at the bigger picture."
O'Neill is yet to show his hand in the transfer market having recruited only Manchester City full-back Wayne Bridge and Wolfsburg central defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos on loan in January.
Owner and chairman Ellis Short expressed his delight with the job his new manager is doing and the pair will sit down to discuss the way ahead during the next few weeks.
O'Neill said: "All we did in the January window was take two players very, very late on loan, so closer to the end of the season, I will start to try to assess the situation.
"But I have been really pleased with the effort of the team. I have to be pleased with it, it's been a fantastic effort by them.
"When the season ends and you have really got time to consider it, I will be absolutely delighted with it."
Sunderland head for O'Neill's former club Aston Villa on Saturday with the Midlanders having slipped ever-closer to the relegation zone as a result of a run of just one win in 11 league games.
They are just six points clear of the bottom three and only one better off than in-form Wigan with five games to play, and they desperately need a victory to ease themselves away from the scrap at the foot of the table.
The Black Cats have themselves won only twice in 10 league outings and have not managed a single goal in their last three, and while they are only three points adrift of eighth-placed Liverpool, they are just one better off than Stoke in 14th.
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