DAVID Vaughan admits he faces an uphill task to reach a level playing field with his midfield rivals after missing Sunderland’s pre-season campaign.
Vaughan completed 90 minutes for the first time since returning from a hernia operation after helping the Black Cats to a 2-2 draw with Newcastle United in Tuesday’s Premier Under-21 League derby.
The 29-year-old, who underwent a similar procedure during the summer, suffered a fresh injury to his groin on the eve of Sunderland’s first pre-season outing in South Korea, which ruled him out of the entire friendly programme.
And Vaughan fears that could prove costly – both in terms of fitness and altering Martin O’Neill’s thoughts on those midfielders who have already started the campaign.
Vaughan told the Echo: “Pre-season was very frustrating for me.
“I finished the season with the injury and, for one reason or another, it didn’t get sorted during the summer break. It was tough to have the operation at that time, but I’ve just got to back into it now.
“It is tough when you miss pre-season. You come back and the rest of the players are much further ahead fitness-wise.
“You’re playing catch-up the whole time so you know it’s going to be a couple of months down the line before you’re at the same level.
“But the season is halfway through by then.
“Players are playing for their place during pre-season as well and putting ideas in the manager’s head. You miss that opportunity which can be frustrating.
“There’s obviously quite a few central midfielders at the club and we’ve all got different attributes.
“But hopefully I can get a chance and hold my place in the team.”
Vaughan believes he is edging closer to challenging for a place in the first-team squad after two appearances for Sunderland’s second string and 45 minutes for Wales last week.
The former Blackpool man was a late call-up to the Wales squad for their World Cup qualifier in Serbia and was introduced at the interval in a harrowing 6-1 defeat. “I’d like to think I’m getting closer to contention,” he added.
“I need a few more games. Tuesday was only my first full game.
“Hopefully I can get a few more 90 minutes in during the next few weeks. It was pleasing to be back on the pitch in a competitive game for Wales. I actually enjoyed playing the game, even though the result didn’t go too well. It was mixed emotions really.”