MARTIN O'NEILL believes Alfred N'Diaye will improve game by game after the towering midfielder tasted defeat for the first time in a Sunderland shirt at Reading.

The 22-year-old covered a lot of ground during Sunderland's 2-1 defeat at the Madejski Stadium, but was guilty of giving the ball away too cheaply as well as squandering a late opportunity to win the game.

But O'Neill has reiterated his belief that once N'Diaye, a £3.8m signing from Bursaspor, adapts fully to Premier League football he will be a Sunderland success.

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"He's learning the game," said O'Neill. "He's making runs at this moment, sometimes I feel he goes a bit early, but overall I think he'll do really well for us once he's settled down.

"I think he's trying to do everything for us at this minute, but he'll be fine.

N'Diaye continues to enjoy the full backing of Sunderland's support, and O'Neill felt sorry for him after he shanked an opportunity wide with ten minutes to play after decent work with Adam Johnson.

O'Neill added: "He's a strong lad, he wants to do well, he's disappointed for himself. He should have done better with the chance he had, it was a decent chance, and the lead-up to it was impressive with Adam Johnson."

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An in-form N'Diaye will be a fillip for Sunderland, who, with defeat, found themselves looking over their shoulders once more. And O'Neill still feels that they have more battling to do if they are to retain their Premier League status.

"It will go to the wire," said O'Neill.

"I saw chunks of the game between QPR and Norwich, Aston Villa conceded late, it's going to be like that, it's going to be difficult.

"Reading adapted quickly to the conditions, and they were stronger than us earlier on. Once we got a grip of the game I thought we did well.

We're not looking up yet. We've still got more points to win. Sunderland's manager paid tribute to Reading's revival, which has seen them win three games out of four as well as coming back from 2-0 down at home to Chelsea to earn a point.

O'Neill said: "It's been a great effort. It turned in that fightback against WBA, then there's been a lot of late goals.

"But I'm disappointed with us. Reading will be delighted but from our viewpoint it's disappointing."

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