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Martin O'Neill thinks that his experiment of playing James McClean in the centre of the pitch has helped the Ireland international progress as a player

Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill is set to return Republic of Ireland international James McClean to a more familiar wide role, but believes that the 23-year-old has learned from the experience of playing in the centre.

McClean was used in a central position against Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool in recent Premier League games, but is expected to revert to the wing against West Ham United on Saturday afternoon. "I thought he would give us a bit of physical strength in there, which we lack against other teams in the Premier League," O'Neill told the club's official website. "But as to whether it is a long-term thing, I am not really sure about that.

"James is still learning his own position out wide and it is a different issue going in there. In terms of his overall game, it will do him no harm at all. Even though it is only 15 yards infield, you get a very different picture. When you are playing out wide, they say the white line is your friend. Nobody is going to come from behind the line to tackle you.

O'Neill recalled his former assistant manager and 28-cap Scotland left winger, who is best remembered for scoring the winner against England in the 1981 British Home Championship and netting for his country at the 1982 World Cup: "John Robertson used to say that that was what he loved about playing there. The line was there for him and you know where you are. When you are infield, there are players coming in from either side of you, from behind you and from in front of you. The second you miscontrol it, people are on top of you and suddenly you've lost the ball."

The arrival of Alfred N'Diaye from Turkish club Bursaspor will allow McClean to return to the left-wing, as the France under-21 international is expected to make his debut against the Hammers on Saturday.

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