David Moyes was handed a much-needed boost after Jason Denayer starred in Saturday’s FA Cup third round tie against Burnley.
The Belgian had been missing in recent games after picking up an injury at Old Trafford on Boxing Day, but returned in the centre-half position for the 0-0 Stadium of Light draw.
He was superb, showing excellent positional awareness and reading of the game.
The 21-year-old on-loan Manchester City man added some much-needed composure to Moyes’ back line and made some vital blocks, even if Burnley did feel they had a strong claim for handball deep in the second half.
It has potentially solved one obvious problem for the Sunderland boss, who is trying to compensate for the temporary loss of star centre-half Lamine Kone.
The Black Cats capitulated after Kone’s injury at Turf Moor, in the 4-1 New Year’s Eve Premier LeagUe drubbing, and made life frighteningly easy for visiting striker Andre Gray, though they did improve significantly by time Liverpool came to the Stadium of Light two days later.
Kone is now at the Africa Cup of Nations, with his Ivory Coast team strong favourites to win the competition.
Should they reach the final stages, Kone is likely to miss four Premier League games, and potentially two FA Cup ties.
Denayer has staked his claim and Moyes also had the chance to look at some other players who have been on the fringes this season.
Javier Manquillo was a steady presence at right-back, even if he blew Sunderland’s best opportunity to score when he smashed a cross way out the reach of an onrushing Jermain Defoe at the back post.
Donald Love also had an excellent game, filling in as the side’s holding mifielder and supporting his defence with a couple of crucial interceptions and clearances.
Moyes said: “With Lamine Kone being away, one of the things we had to have a look at was to see how Jason (Denayer) could do for us as a centre-back.
“That’s probably his preferred position really, and, because of our shortage, this game gave me an opportunity to have a look at him there.
“That was the main reason for playing him there, and I thought he did well.
“Look at people like Donald Love, who we brought in, and one or two others.
“Javier Manquillo made his first start for a while and we put Jason to the back to see how he did.
“We are trying to get the best we can out of the players we have and I’ll keep trying to do that.”
Despite the presence of Manquillo at full-back, it was a strong selection from David Moyes, with John O’Shea the only established first-team player to be rested.
The Sunderland boss may find it harder to go full strength for the replay, the Turf Moor clash scheduled for a week tomorrow.
That game will come in between two vital Premier League ties at home to Stoke City and away to West Bromwich Albion.
Moyes admits he doesn’t know how many changes he will make for that game and is hoping for a boost from the physio room before then.
Moyes said: “I don’t know.
“Burnley were able to make a few changes and their bench was certainly stronger than ours.
“We can only hope that we get some players back from injury.
“I think we were without eight injured players and three lads at the Africa Cup of Nations.
“That would take its toll on most clubs and four of them are out with long-term injuries as people are well aware.
“We do not want to make excuses and we are trying not too, but they are the facts.”
Replay tickets will cost £10 (adults) and £5 (over-65s and under-16s).