JOHN O’Shea believes Steven Fletcher and Danny Graham have the mental tools to form an effective £17m strike partnership.
The two Sunderland frontmen enjoyed their longest run-out together yet in Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Arsenal, with the second half introduction of Graham prompting a rousing finale from the Black Cats.
With Martin O’Neill’s men finding the net just once in their last three games, there will be intense scrutiny over whether Graham will be handed a starting spot for Sunderland’s return to Premier League action at West Brom on Saturday week.
Centre-half O’Shea is confident the Fletcher-Graham double-act can thrive, and says they have the awareness of how to get the best out of each other.
O’Shea told the Gazette: “They’re very intelligent footballers, not just finishers, and that bodes well for the upcoming games.
“They definitely showed they can work together on Saturday.
“They backed in strong into the two centre-backs, and were able to link up very well.”
Fletcher had been isolated before the arrival of Graham, but the Scotland international – who had earlier sliced into the side netting when well-placed – wasted two golden opportunities for a leveller in the closing stages.
O’Shea refuses to put any blame on Sunderland’s top scorer though, with the 25-year-old proving a lethal predator since his £12m capture from Wolves during the summer.
“Fletch gets himself in fantastic positions and because he’s such a good finisher, you generally expect him to score,” said O’Shea.
“The one where he missed it at the near post, you were expecting him to hit the target.
“But look, he’s been amazing for us this season, we can’t be singling him out for missing chances – other lads could have scored too.”
O’Shea believes that if Sunderland had found an equaliser against the 10 man Gunners, the Black Cats could have even won the game.
Although the Ireland international admits Arsenal could have been out of sight after the first half, O’Shea says the Sunderland dressing room was deflated at not being able to secure anything for their efforts following the dismissal of Gunners full-back Carl Jenkinson.
“It’s frustrating when you’re actually playing quite well and the ball doesn’t go in the net,” added the 31-year-old.
“If we had got a goal in the 75th or 80th minute, you’d fancy yourselves to go on and win the game.
“But credit to Arsenal they held out, defended very strongly and dealt with set pieces.
“It just didn’t drop in for us, we were so, so close.
“After the first half, we were a little bit lucky to still be in the game – Arsenal played very well and dominated for large periods. We couldn’t seem to get to grips with it.
“We gave it a right go in the second half and even before they went down to 10 men, we were creating more chances.
“Yes, we had a few scares ourselves, but we knew if we were going to get back into the game, we were going to have to push extra men forward and take some chances.
“It was a positive second half from what was Arsenal being very good in the first half.”