MATT Kilgallon admits John O’Shea’s return to fitness has left him feeling the heat over his starting spot for Sunderland’s final four games.
Defender O’Shea has been back in training since last Thursday after a month on the sidelines with the calf strain sustained in Sunderland’s 3-1 victory over QPR.
The Republic of Ireland defender wasn’t included in the squad to face Wolves last weekend, although he did complete a strenuous warm-down on the Stadium of Light pitch after the final whistle.
But with an extra week’s training under his belt, O’Shea, pictured, is expected to be in the party that travels to struggling Aston Villa on Saturday.
Centre-half Kilgallon accepts he faces a battle to keep his place alongside Michael Turner, even though the duo have kept a clean sheet in two of Sunderland’s last four games.
Kilgallon told the Gazette: “John’s breathing down my neck now!
“He’s come back to fitness, and he is a great player.
“He’s trained as though he has never been away, so I’m sure he will be in contention soon.
“It’s a great situation for the manager when he’s got all his players available. But I guess we’ll have to wait until the weekend to see what he will do against Aston Villa.”
Kilgallon could barely have imagined vying with O’Shea for a starting spot four months ago after finding himself frozen out of the first-team picture by former boss Steve Bruce.
But the ex-Sheffield United defender has grasped his opportunity under Martin O’Neill after initially returning alongside O’Shea for four games in January.
An ankle injury halted his comeback, with O’Shea and Turner forming an effective double-act during the 28-year-old’s absence.
But after O’Neill preferred Kilgallon to on-loan Stuttgart man Sotirios Kyrgiakos for Sunderland’s draw at Manchester City last month, he has continued to impress in the starting XI and is desperate to remain there until the end of the campaign.
“It’s been an incredible turnaround for me since Christmas and I don’t really want the season to end, to be honest,” he added.
“It was hard when I was out of the team. You can start doubting yourself and wondering what has happened to you.
“But I am quite a strong person and I always knew I was good enough to play for Sunderland and, luckily for me, things changed when the new manager came in.
“I have to thank him for giving me a chance in the side, and hopefully I have repaid him by playing as well as I can and not letting him down.
“There’s still a few more games left, and I just want to try to stay in the side for the remainder of the season.
“We’ve kept clean sheets in two of our last four games so if we can keep more, hopefully I will keep my place.”