MARTIN O'Neill has no intention of selling Stephane Sessegnon this month, and has insisted the Sunderland forward is happy with life on Wearside.

A number of recent reports have suggested Sessegnon has struggled to settle in the North-East following last January's move from Paris St Germain, with family issues making it more difficult for him to put down roots in the region.

Liverpool are watching the situation with interest, while Marseille are understood to be keen to offer the Benin international a potential return to France.

Sessegnon has been one of Sunderland's key players under O'Neill, scoring two goals in the last four matches, and while he is still assessing his options seven days into the transfer window, the Black Cats boss will do all he can to hold on to a player he regards as one of his prize assets.

"I'd be massively reluctant to let Stephane go," said O'Neill, who will take charge of his first cup game as Sunderland boss tomorrow when his side travel to Peterborough in the FA Cup third round.

"I'd be pretty confident that Stephane is fine and happy here. That's certainly the impression we've been getting.

"He's been really fantastic for us. He's only small, but he's very strong with the ball, he's got great control and he's quite quick. That's not something we're blessed with, we don't have fantastic pace.

"From that viewpoint, he stands out at this minute and he's not someone we'd be wanting to let go. He's fine, and he's not expressed any discontent at all."

Similarly, O'Neill does not expect Kieran Richardson to be leaving Wearside this month, despite interest in the former England international from Arsenal.

There has been no formal approach from the Gunners, but Arsene Wenger is keen to bolster his defensive options and with Richardson's versatility making him a valuable asset, contact is expected at some stage.

"Arsenal have not been in touch about Kieran," said O'Neill. "I don't know anything about it. I spoke to the chief executive, and she confirmed that there hasn't been any talks at all.

"There hasn't been anybody in touch. I will keep players informed about what's happening, but I certainly don't want a rush of players leaving the club. I'd rather think about stabilising things here, and hopefully we can push on from there."

Having already stabilised in terms of his side's league position, O'Neill will turn his attention to the cup this weekend as Sunderland look to improve on a dreadful recent record that has seen them fail to progress beyond the FA Cup fourth round in each of the last seven seasons.

There is now a shorter gap between Sunderland's last appearance in the FA Cup final (1992) and their last victory in the competition (1973) than between their last outing at Wembley and the current campaign, a statistic that O'Neill is desperate to address.

The Northern Irishman was criticised for fielding a weakened team in the latter stages of the UEFA Cup during his time at Aston Villa, but is adamant he will be fielding as strong a team as possible this weekend.

"It's a viable route to silverware," he said. "If you narrow it down to the number of games you have to win to maybe appear in a final, it's a competition that a club like Sunderland should be taking seriously. Why shouldn't we?

"The results we've got recently have given us a little bit of respite in terms of the league. We could still lose the game, but we will be treating the competition with the merit it deserves.

"It's still a fantastic competition. I know it's lost a bit of its sheen, maybe with the introduction of the Premier League, and that's quite a shame. But the club has a history and we're going to try to do our best."

That history revolves around 1973, but while O'Neill was a Sunderland supporter at the time of Bob Stokoe's finest hour, he had other things on his mind when Ian Porterfield scored the winner at Wembley.

"I've been asked if I had a tear in my eye in 1973," he said. "I didn't. I was worried about my position in the Nottingham Forest team at that time, and that would have been the tear I was shedding."

O'Neill has a number of injury concerns to address ahead of tomorrow's game, most notably in defence where Titus Bramble and Wes Brown are still expected to be missing.

Michael Turner came through a reserves game this week and could be involved, while Phil Bardsley and Connor Wickham both trained yesterday in an attempt to prove their fitness ahead of the trip to London Road.

"They're both training and that's encouraging," said O'Neill. "I'm not holding fantastic store in it, but if they come through okay, they'll be considered. That would be good because we've got one or two problems elsewhere."

* Sunderland's reserve side will travel to Bishop Auckland on Wednesday, January 18 for a friendly at the Two Blues' Heritage Park. Keith Bertschin's men will take on Colin Myers' Northern League Division One side at 7pm. Entry is £5 for adults, £3 for senior citizens and under 16s and free for under 5s.