CRAIG Gardner has praised Alfred N'Diaye's instant impact in a Sunderland shirt, with Black Cats boss Martin O'Neill remaining confident he will be able to make further additions before the transfer window closes a week tomorrow.
N'Diaye enjoyed an impressive full debut as Sunderland claimed a 3-2 win at Wigan last weekend, with his aggressive and energetic approach adding some much-needed impetus to his side's midfield.
The France under-21 international became the Black Cats' first January signing when he completed a £3.2m move from Bursaspor, with O'Neill also adding Kader Mangane on an initial season-long loan.
Loading article content
More signings are in the offing, with a new centre-forward a priority following Fraizer Campbell's departure to Cardiff.
However, with Swansea refusing to allow Danny Graham to leave the Liberty Stadium until they have secured a replacement of their own, Sunderland are unlikely to have a new striker in place before the weekend.
The Swans have been actively pursuing former Sunderland striker Kenwyne Jones, but have so far been unable to agree a deal with Stoke City.
Graham remains O'Neill's primary target, even though Swansea boss Michael Laudrup has refused to discuss transfer matters ahead of this evening's Capital One Cup semi-final second leg with Chelsea. "We have more important things to do than look at the transfer window," he said yesterday.
To further complicate matters, Swansea are reluctant to sell Graham to Sunderland until they have completed next Tuesday's fixture at the Stadium of Light.
O'Neill has compiled a list of alternative targets, with Lazio striker Mauro Zarate under consideration after his club confirmed they would be willing to allow him to leave on a season-long loan.
However, the Black Cats boss is willing to wait until the final week of the transfer window if it enhances his chances of landing Graham.
He will hope the former Middlesbrough trainee has as immediate an impact as N'Diaye, who only completed a handful of training sessions prior to making his first start at the DW Stadium.
"It's something we've been missing," said Gardner, who is rapidly establishing himself as Sunderland's number one right-back after being moved from midfield. "Alfie (N'Diaye) is such a nice lad, but he's a hard player.
"People think he just gets about the pitch and smashes people, but his cross for the second goal was top notch and that's Alfie. If that's his (full) debut, I'd like to think what he will be like in ten or 15 games.
"Once he gets some confidence and gets used to the pace of the game, he will be a brilliant signing for the club. If we can play that like every week then happy days."
Saturday's victory lifted Sunderland to 11th position and opened up a nine-point gap to the relegation places.
The Black Cats are in their highest placing of the season and could move into the top half of the table if they overcome Swansea when the league programme resumes in six days time.
Sunderland have only claimed one top-ten finish in the Premier League in the whole of the last decade, but Gardner feels it is realistic to target a second despite the club's shaky start to the current campaign.
"We've got (Lee) Cattermole to come back, we've got Browny (Wes Brown) to come back and they're key players to our team," he said. "The gaffer might bring someone else in, but we've got a good squad of players anyway and hopefully we can finish in the top ten now.
"We were in a dangerous position a few weeks ago, but we've pulled away from the bottom three and now we've got to think about pushing on and getting the top-ten finish we didn't get last season."
Gardner's newly rediscovered goal-scoring form has been a key factor in the recent renaissance, with his penalty at Wigan making it four goals in the last 13 games.
"I'm not a player that tries to tap penalties," he said. "I just pick a side and hammer it and I think that's how they should be taken.
"Luckily, it went in for me. I've scored five goals this season and that's largely from right-back. Hopefully I can score a few more."