MARTIN O'Neill has hailed Stephane Sessegnon's game-changing ability and claimed it is always worth trying to accommodate the in-form Sunderland attacker in his team.
Sessegnon has arguably been the Black Cats' most important player under O'Neill, scoring five goals in his last 13 matches and playing a key role in a number of others, such as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's crucial own goal in last weekend's FA Cup win over Arsenal.
The Benin international is a difficult player to pigeon hole as he is comfortable playing as a lone striker despite his limited physique yet is equally adept at filling a midfield role either on the flank or in the hole behind a more orthodox forward.
In many ways, he is Sunderland's X-factor, a Matt Le Tissier or Peter Beardsley capable of turning a game in an instant. His versatility makes him somewhat difficult to accommodate, but O'Neill is adamant that the positives outweigh any negatives when it comes to slotting Sessegnon into the team.
“People ask me if he is easy to fit into the team structure,” said the Sunderland boss, who admits he was unaware of the extent of Sessegnon's ability when he agreed to replace Steve Bruce last December. “He has got lots of ability, and when he twists and turns, something might happen.
“He has individual quality, and all the best teams have individuals who can turn games. It is nice to have one of those players in our team.”
Last Saturday, Sessegnon's presence as a lone striker meant Fraizer Campbell and Ji Dong-won were restricted to a place on the substitutes' bench, with £8m man Connor Wickham not even making the match-day 18. When Sunderland travel to West Brom this weekend, a fit-again Nicklas Bendtner will also be in the mix.
If Sessegnon is to continue up front, a number of his colleagues are going to be unhappy with their lot, but O'Neill is adamant the former Paris St Germain star needs to be in as prominent an attacking position as possible..
“Sometimes he has to drop in for us, but while he can go out wide right, playing up the middle and as close to the opposition goal as possible is best,” he said. “He has been playing very well and once he gets to understand everyone, he will be even better.
“He can hold it up, bring people into play and he can twist and turn and get at players. He has been so important to us and hopefully that will continue.”
Sessegnon's form has been a major boost to O'Neill in recent weeks, but the Sunderland boss has suffered a blow with the news that Titus Bramble faces at least another month on the sidelines.
Bramble, who has already been sidelined since the Boxing Day draw with Everton because of a combination of Achilles and calf problems, suffered a setback in training.
He is now wearing a protective boot to prevent further damage and is unlikely to return to full training until the middle of March at the earliest.
“Titus has a boot on and is going to be immobile now for a few weeks,” confirmed O'Neill. “He will be in it for the next three weeks, which is a setback.”