Sam Allardyce says Jack Rodwell can play a major part in keeping Sunderland in the Premier League after impressing off the bench against Watford.
Last week Allardyce suggested midfielder Rodwell – once one of the most highly-rated prospects in the country – faces a fight to save his career after losing his “focus and his confidence” during an underwhelming spell at Manchester City.
However the former West Ham boss admitted the 24-year-old caught his eye after coming on as a substitute in the 1-0 home defeat to the Hornets – a result which leaves the Black Cats 19th in the Premier League.
“I liked Jack Rodwell’s performance. It was like ‘come on Jack, where have you been?'” Allardyce told the Sunderland Echo.
“If Jack plays how we know he can on a consistent basis, that will help a lot.”
Sunderland are heading into a tough festive period, in which they face trips to Chelsea and Manchester City, as well as host Liverpool.
And Rodwell is likely to be called upon with Seb Larsson and Lee Cattermole and injuryed, while summer signings Yann M’Vila and Ola Toivonen used to having a break at this time of year.
“The ones who haven’t been here before are the ones who are still learning – the Ola’s, the Yann’s,” Allardyce added.
“They could have a dip over Christmas because they haven’t played like this before. So we have to use the squad as best we can.”
Sunderland travel to Stamford Bridge on Saturday in what could be described as a relegation six-pointer with the reigning champions languishing in 16th, only three points above the North East side.
“With the squad they’ve got, the manager, you just don’t expect it,” Allardyce said.
“You always think it’s early. Yes, it’s early, but we’ve had 16 games now. For me, Chelsea being relegated would be a bigger shock, because Leicester have got some good players.”