Dick Advocaat admits Sebastian Coates’ contribution to Sunderland’s survival bid has proved to be an unexpected bonus.
On-loan Liverpool centre-half Coates has doubled his tally of Premier League appearances for Sunderland after starting each of the last four games - helping the Black Cats to an eight-point haul from that run.
Coates had previously looked to be an injury-hit flop signing after fellow Uruguayan Gus Poyet brought him to the Stadium of Light on a season-long loan from Liverpool last summer.
But after Argentine centre-half Santiago Vergini endured an error-ridden outing in last month’s collapse against Crystal Palace, Advocaat turned to Coates as the only available alternative.
Since then, Coates has grown in stature, with the 24-year-old - about to enter the final 12 months of his Liverpool contract - arguably Sunderland’s top performer in last weekend’s stalemate with Leicester.
Head coach Advocaat said: “Nobody expected the way Coates would play.
“He’s been very solid in the last couple of games, so that gives him the confidence.
“When you come in (as head coach) then you have expectations for players.
“And in the past he had hardly started a game.
“But we saw him improving in training and in some things I was not so happy with Santi, so I thought we’d put him in.
“He’s done well and that’s the reason why he is still playing.”
Coates’ contribution has seen Sunderland keep back-to-back clean sheets in the last two games, although that defensive resolve promises to be tested at third place Arsenal tomorrow night.
Coates isn’t the only defender who has improved recently, however.
“I’ve definitely had the feeling that the players all know their jobs and there is a better organisation of what we have to do when we don’t have the ball, and that’s important,” added Advocaat.
“From the moment we arrived, they have given everything in training. They have been very positive.”