RENAISSANCE man Danny Graham insists he never gave up on his Sunderland career, despite 18 months out of the first-team picture.
Graham made his first Sunderland start since May 2013 in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at his former club Swansea after the striker was rewarded for four positive outings from the bench.
The 29-year-old spent last season out on loan at Hull and Middlesbrough – just six months after arriving in a £5million move from Swansea – while Sunderland desperately tried to offload him during the summer.
His place in Gus Poyet’s plans was then made clear when he stayed at home for Sunderland’s pre-season trip to Portugal, before he headed out on loan to Championship Wolves in November.
But since returning from Molineux at the turn of 2015, Graham has impressed Poyet on the training field and as a substitute, and was given the nod ahead of Steven Fletcher on Saturday.
Graham said: “It’s been a long time.
“I’ve obviously been on loan at various clubs, but I came back from Wolves, where I got match-fit and sharp, and a lot leaner than I was.
“I’ve been doing well in training and the gaffer’s rewarded me with a start.
“I thought I did well, but come the end, I was always going to be blowing. It’s been a while!
“The manager kept an open mind on me which is great.
“But I never once gave up on my future here.
“I always wanted to come back at the start of the season and do well.
“I didn’t travel to Portugal and stuff like that, which was tough.
“I went out on loan, just kept my head down in training – never moaned or knocked on his door.
“It’s paid off and I’m delighted he’s given me that chance. Hopefully I can stay around that first-team now.”
However, Graham admits there were inevitably occasions when he thought he might be on the move.
“Obviously not travelling to Portugal, you think your days are numbered,” he said.
“Then I wanted to get out on loan and it took a while for that to happen.
“But I’m back in now and determined to stay there.
“Hopefully I get a few more starts between now and the end of the season.”
It was Graham’s strike partner, Jermain Defoe, who gave Sunderland a half-time lead at the Liberty Stadium, with his second goal for the Black Cats.
But Sunderland were haunted by former loanee Ki Sung-Yueng in the second half, when the South Korean took advantage of some slack marking to head home.
“It’s always nice to go back to Swansea, but we were a bit disappointed not to get all three points because we put ourselves in a great position,” added Graham.
“It was a free header in the box, which we weren’t happy with.
“But it’s a point away at a very good football team, so you can’t be too down about it.
“Hopefully now we can get three points tomorrow against QPR.”