JOZY ALTIDORE must continue to believe that he can force his way into the Sunderland set-up, insists Gus Poyet.
Altidore hasn’t started a Premier League game since March’s defeat at Liverpool, with both Steven Fletcher and Connor Wickham ahead of the American international in Poyet’s pecking order of strikers so far this season.
The 25-year-old’s bit-part role has prompted Altidore to concede he may have to consider his future in the January transfer window, with SportMail revealing earlier this week how French side Lille will decide next month whether to revive their interest.
But despite the speculation over Altidore’s future, Sunderland boss Poyet is keen for the £7million man to maintain the challenge for a starting spot after completing both of the USA’s friendlies during the international break.
Poyet said: “I want Jozy to have a challenge. I don’t want him to accept that he’s not going to play.
“I want him to think he has a chance of playing on a Saturday. He played all right for the national team, not fantastic, but he played two full games which is good.
“But he needs to make sure there are doubts over who is the main striker here.
“If he gets a chance to play – whether it’s 10 minutes, 20 or 90 – he has to show that he wants to be the main striker.
“Then if there’s an injury, it’s not a big worry.”
There was relief for Poyet this week that the injury scare suffered by Fletcher on international duty was not serious.
Should Fletcher face a spell on the sidelines, then Wickham is likely to move into the central role, although Poyet is happy to keep the 21-year-old in the wide left position he has occupied for much of the campaign.
“At the moment, we’re playing with Connor wide,” said Poyet.
“I know that he wants to play in the middle where he did very well last year.
“But I thought there was something special between those two (Fletcher and Wickham) during the summer. They connected well and gave us some presence.
“It was a good option to try something between them.
“But if you lose one, then of course, Jozy needs to step up.”
Like Altidore, there are question marks over Wickham’s future in the January transfer window, with the England Under-21 striker yet to agree an extension to his Sunderland contract which is due to expire next summer.
Poyet will be pro-active if the speculation over the two frontmen affects their attitude in training, yet insists he has had no cause to worry so far.
“I think I will spot that very easily,” he added.
“I will be very disappointed if that happens.
“When someone is about to finish a contract, there are some clubs that tell the manager not to play them anymore.
“I don’t think that’s right. You use them to the last day of their contract.
“In the same way, the player needs to put it about.
“But I don’t have any doubts over Connor or Jozy.
“They need to keep training and playing, and then if someone wants to leave, we cannot control that.
“So far, there have not been any issues so I’m not even thinking about it.”