GUS POYET admits he would have ideally handed ever-present captain John O’Shea a breather by this stage of the season.
O’Shea, along with Stoke centre-half Ryan Shawcross, are the only two Premier League players to have played every minute of each cup and top flight game this season.
The 33-year-old has been one of Sunderland’s most consistent performers this year, arguably playing his best football since arriving at the Stadium of Light from Manchester United in the summer of 2011.
Poyet would have liked to give O’Shea a rest during some of Sunderland’s cup commitments, yet injuries to fellow centre-halves Wes Brown and Sebastian Coates have forced him to keep the Republic of Ireland international as the mainstay in Sunderland’s back four so far.
The Sunderland boss said: “I would like him to have a rest and I was thinking about the cup.
“The problem was every time we were going to make a decision on something, someone else came out.
“But he’s intelligent and he’s fit.
“In the summer, I think he came back fitter than when I was here in the beginning.
“Him and (Emanuele) Giaccherini were scarily fit in pre-season.
“That’s good because it makes you extend your career.”
O’Shea struggled at the start of last season after being given the thankless task of being thrust alongside misfit Bosman signings Valentin Roberge and Modibo Diakite.
But following the surprise return to fitness of ex-Man United team-mate Brown, O’Shea has been at the heart of Sunderland’s defensive solidity.
That has not gone unnoticed by Poyet, who has seen first-hand why his skipper spent more than a decade at Old Trafford.
“He’s been consistent all the way through this season,” added Poyet.
“I understand why he played so many years at Man United now.
“I’ve got no doubt that if he was playing with better players than him, it would be very easy.
“If you put him in any team in the world and he was surrounded by better players, then he would be unbelievable.
“Now we’re asking him to do a lot. We’re asking him to be the leader, to mark and to play 90 minutes every game.”