Sunderland boss David Moyes impressed by the return of Jack Rodwell
Jack Rodwell's return to fitness AND form has come just at the right time for Sunderland.
The midfielder was back in a red and white shirt on Monday for the first time since the 4-1 defeat to Arsenal at the end of October.
Rodwell has been absent for eight weeks after hamstring trouble, missing the team’s turnaround in fortunes.
But with injuries and Africa Cup of Nations commitments biting deep, his resumption has come as a massive boost.
And Rodwell performed very well against title-chasers Liverpool on Monday, getting through over an hour before his tiring legs were replaced by Javier Manquillo.
The 25-year-old had a good shot saved by former Cats keeper Simon Mignolet and picked up a yellow card later for rattling Emre Can with a strong tackle.
After the humiliating 4-1 defeat at Burnley two days earlier, boss David Moyes wanted a reaction, wanted players to stand up and be counted.
Rodwell watched the horror show from the bench, but he certainly responded to his boss’s orders.
“I was pleased with Jack,” said Moyes, who was glad to see him get a warm ovation after his withdrawal.
“I thought he played well and I’m glad the crowd recognised it.
“Jack is one who can get himself at that level more often. He can pass it, he has the ability to get on the ball and take it – he just needs to show a bit more toughness and add some robustness to his game at times.
“I’m glad to have him back because we are short of midfielders and really short on those who can play in central midfield.”
With Didier Ndong now away at the ACN with hosts Gabon, Moyes will be keen to see Rodwell carry on today, against Burnley in the FA Cup, where he left off against the Reds.
The central areas of the park are vital. Rodwell and Ndong, who won the first of two Jermain Defoe penalties when he drove into the box midway through the opening period, both impressed against Jurgen Klopp’s Reds.
Both were positive in all that they did, with Ndong bouncing back from a couple of iffy displays, including giving away the ball at Old Trafford on Boxing Day, allowing Manchester United to break and score the match-clinching goal through Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
“Didier just looked like he’d gained a bit of confidence back against Liverpool,” said Moyes.
“That pass against Manchester United didn’t help him – he was really destroyed by his mistake.
“He can do the simple things well, like the fact he’s a hard-worker, and he does lift the team with his energy.
“Didier and Jack played very well against Liverpool but whoever has played in the games before, you couldn’t say there’s been a consistent level.”
What better occasion for the players to start to show that than against the opponents who made it such a galling ending to 2016.