LEE Cattermole has challenged boyhood team-mate Adam Johnson to be Sunderland’s match-winner on a regular basis.
Winger Johnson has made the difference in each of Sunderland’s last three games, with last weekend’s stunning hat-trick at Fulham coming after a decisive cameo from the bench against Manchester United, and the opening goal in the FA Cup victory over Carlisle.
But the 26-year-old has been notoriously inconsistent during his 18 months on Wearside, and had been in and out of the starting XI before the upturn in his form at the turn of the year.
Midfielder Cattermole, who came through Middlesbrough’s ranks alongside Johnson, is fully aware of the England international’s ability though, and realises he could be the difference in the survival battle.
Cattermole said: “If the likes of Johnno start sparkling, and showing the quality they have got, it makes a massive difference.
“He came on in the FA Cup against Carlisle and scored one and made one, then he won a penalty against Man United in the Capital One Cup, and then he came into his own at Fulham.
“He’s got that spark, he’s got that X factor which a lot of players don’t have, and that’s what you pay big money for.
“Wingers are confidence players, and he has come out since the turn of the year and been absolutely brilliant.
“He was unplayable last Saturday – Fulham couldn’t handle him.
“Now he has to build on that, and keep moving forward.
“If he can give us that little bit of class in certain parts of the game, it will help us get the results we have been lacking.
“Also, it couldn’t happen to a better lad.
“He’s a massive character around the place, and he will hopefully get better and better.
“The players up the pitch who are our most skilful players, they make the difference.
“Get them playing with confidence, and it’s a different story.
“If you look at the games we drew 0-0, that’s where we were lacking.”
Johnson’s treble last weekend moved Sunderland off the Premier League’s basement for the first time since November.
And back-to-back league wins for the first time this season in tomorrow lunchtime’s visit of Southampton, would take Gus Poyet’s side out of the bottom three for the first time since August.
Despite the off-field problems at Southampton this week, Cattermole still expects a stern test, but sees no reason why Sunderland cannot take another major step towards survival.
Cattermole added: “It’s great to be off the bottom of the table.
“But, personally, I didn’t think about it last weekend.
“I’m just looking forward to each and every game now.
“Southampton have done really well this season.
“We beat them earlier this season in the Capital One Cup, but they play a similar style to ourselves.
“Their manager has got them playing well, and they are a hard-working team.
“It will be a really tough game, but we don’t fear anybody.”