Lee Cattermole’s presence in the middle of the park will be vital for Sunderland as the relegation battle reaches boiling point, believes Sam Allardyce.
Cattermole found himself relegated to the bench last month after Allardyce opted to recall Jack Rodwell in the middle of the park, with the £10million man offering a better balance to the central midfield trio.
However, Cattermole reacted positively to losing his place, with Sunderland’s longest-serving first-teamer understood to have been outstanding on the training ground, before being recalled to the starting XI for the last four games.
Cattermole has played a key role in taking four points from the pivotal encounters against Norwich and Arsenal, with his determination to help Sunderland to Premier League survival evidently clear.
Off-the-field, the 28-year-old has been the dressing room leader too; ensuring every player is aware of what is on the line as Sunderland strive to avoid being condemned to the Championship.
Sunderland boss Allardyce said: “Having that driving force in midfield is very important in the engine room.
“Jack’s technical ability in many ways is as good as anybody we’ve got.
“But Lee’s grit, desire, drive and determination can lead the team and make them feel good.
“We can rely on him to break up the opposition’s attacks, close their danger men down and use it well.
“Alongside (Jan) Kirchhoff, who intercepts more balls than anyone we’ve ever had, that’s a key factor why defending has become a bit easier for us.”
Allardyce is conscious that Sunderland cannot merely rely on clean sheets to remain in the Premier League, despite three shut-outs in their last four games.
Sunderland have failed to find the net in the last three Stadium of Light outings and Allardyce has spoken with his squad about the importance of everyone taking responsibility in front of goal, not just top scorer Jermain Defoe.
However, amidst the tension of the relegation battle, Allardyce believes it is crucial that Sunderland remain solid and dependable at the back.
“You’ve got to have some quality to create and assist, but you’ve also got to have one that’s resilient when not in possession to stop the opposition scoring,” he added.
“The fewer mistakes we can make now, the better chance we’ve got of winning.
“It will be the opposition capitalising on our mistakes, rather than them creating wonderful goals, which hurts us.”