herald

Thursday 14 December 2017

O'Neill waiting on Sessegnon ahead of shoot-out with Gunners

SUNDERLAND boss Martin O'Neill was today keeping his fingers crossed over the fitness of match-winner Stephane Sessegnon as he prepared for a double date with Arsenal.

The 27-year-old Benin international limped off the pitch at the Riverside Stadium last night after firing the Premier League side to an extra-time victory over Championship neighbours Middlesbrough.

Both he and O'Neill are hopeful that his discomfort was only the result of cramp with Arsenal due at the Stadium of Light in the league on Saturday, and then again seven days later in the fifth round of the FA Cup, the Black Cats' reward for their 2-1 win on Teesside.

O'Neill said: "He is an outstanding player and I am delighted that we have him.

"He's really great. He hasn't missed a game -- I hadn't realised he hasn't missed a game this season for us, which is outstanding. I hope it is just cramp rather than anything else."

The ever-present Sessegnon marked his 28th consecutive appearance of the season with a 112th-minute winner to seal Sunderland's first run to the fifth round of the competition for eight years and kill off Boro's brave resistance.

Tony Mowbray's men had got themselves back into the tie when Lukas Jutkiewicz's 57th-minute strike, his first goal for the club, cancelled out Jack Colback's first-half opener.

Indeed, they matched Sunderland stride for stride throughout and looked the more likely to snatch a win inside the 90 minutes.

However, the tie ultimately went into extra-time, and just as it looked as though penalties might be required, Sessegnon stepped up to drill a low shot past Jason Steele.

O'Neill said: "It was an exciting enough game without maybe that many clear-cut chances being created.

"Colback scored a brilliant goal -- I thought he was terrific for us - Phil Bardsley was brilliant for us and Craig Gardner was terrific.

"I am obviously very pleased to be in it (the fifth round), and I thought we deserved to be so."

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