DAVID Vaughan believes he can play a bigger part in Paolo Di Canio’s plans next season after getting a long-standing groin problem under control.
The 30-year-old was a bit-part player for the Black Cats last season after missing pre-season with a groin strain picked up just days after the club returned to training last July.
That injury sidelined him throughout all of August and most of September.
And although he was regularly used as a substitute after that, he didn’t begin a league game for the club until January 12, when he played in the 3-0 win over West Ham at the Stadium of Light.
In total he made only six league starts all season – the games ending with two wins, two draws and two defeats – but he showed in flashes what he was capable of.
Brought on in the FA Cup third round tie against Bolton at the Reebok in January for example, he helped turn the game Sunderland’s way as the Black Cats escaped with a 2-2 draw.
And no-one who was at St James’s Park in April will forget his absolutely stunning strike which gave Sunderland a 3-0 derby win and Di Canio and his first victory for the club.
Vaughan though believes that he can be a better, more significant player, for Sunderland next season now that the groin problem appears to be receding.
“It was an issue all season really, and probably last season a bit as well,” he admitted to SportMail.
“It’s something that I’ve got to work on and keep paying attention to in the gym.
“Hopefully though I’ve turned a corner and it won’t be too much of an issue next season.”
The Welsh international midfielder has left no stone unturned in his bid to end the strain which has held him back.
“I’ve seen a few different medical people, and the Welsh medical staff have helped me out as well,” he said.
“They’ve given me a programme, as well as the Sunderland staff.
“So hopefully that will cure the problem.
“It’s not a major issue these days – more something that needs to be managed – because it can cause problems if it’s not looked after properly.
“It’s down to me to work a bit harder in the gym and things like that but I’m doing that and hopefully I’ll come back for a full pre-season and be able to show the best of myself.
“I think you reach your best form when you’re playing consistently, and that has been something of a struggle for me at times.
“Next season though, fingers crossed, I’ll be injury free and be able to make more of a contribution.”
That will be music to the ears of Di Canio.
Vaughan’s technical ability has never been in doubt since he was voted Blackpool’s Player of the Season by fans in the club’s only Premier League season.
The Italian’s predecessor, Martin O’Neill, praised Vaughan for his play-making and said that Bolton cup tie showed the midfielder’s willingness to play passing football at a time when his team-mates were under immense pressure.
Di Canio purred over the quality of Vaughan’s derby goal against Newcastle United and if the Welshman can conjure up his best form regularly, he could be an influential player for Sunderland next season.