GUS Poyet has reassured and encouraged his second-string centre-halves Valentin Roberge and Modibo Diakite ahead of today’s game against Aston Villa.
The pair were thrown together on Boxing Day at Everton with John O’Shea injured and Wes Brown suspended and were superb as Sunderland fought to a 1-0 win over the Toffeemen.
But as good as they had been at Goodison Park, they were poor at the Cardiff City Stadium two days later and were Sunderland’s weak links in the 2-2 draw with the Bluebirds.
The pair were at fault for both Cardiff goals and there could easily have been more, had other errors they made been punished.
Poyet though has made a point of been supportive of them, rather than critical of their display in Wales.
He’s fully aware that it was asking a lot of the duo to play 180 minutes of Premier League football in 48 hours when Roberge had played only 51 minutes in more than two months, and Diakite had not played at all since September.
Poyet told SportMail: “We were a little bit too open at Cardiff, and when you are open your decisions need to be spot-on.
“I told Diakite and Vale though that I understand.
“They had not started for a long while and then, after the Everton game where they had been fantastic, they were spent – they had given everything on the pitch there.
“Two days later though they had to go out and perform again.
“Now that’s something which is easy to say, but not easy to do.
“So we have to be fair to them.”
Before these last two games, Roberge and Diakite’s only outing together had been in the 3-1 home defeat to Arsenal.
But if they perform well against Villa, they might be rewarded by being retained for the cup ties which follow.
Brown’s three-match ban ends after today’s game and he is likely to be back by the time Sunderland head to Fulham for their next Premier Lleague match a week on Saturday.
He might return earlier, either for the Black Cats’ FA Cup tie against Carlisle on Sunday, or when his former club Manchester United visits in the Capital One Cup semi-final first leg on Tuesday.
O’Shea, meanwhile, can expect a fairly quick return to the starting XI when he recovers from a shoulder strain which is not expected to keep him on the sidelines for long.
– GRAEME ANDERSON