Lee Cattermole admits that he’s needed to reach 100 per cent fitness to cope with the more advanced position under Sam Allardyce.
Cattermole produced an immense display in last weekend’s win at Norwich, yet had endured teething problems in previous games after being handed a role as the most attack-minded of Sunderland’s midfield trio.
The 28-year-old had matured into a holding midfielder under ex-Sunderland boss Gus Poyet and initially operated there when Allardyce took charge. But with fellow midfield protectors Yann M’Vila and Jan Kirchhoff at Allardyce’s disposal over the last three months, Cattermole has been pushed into a more forward position.
With Jack Rodwell and Seb Larsson also battling for that spot, Cattermole realised that his conditioning needed to improve, particularly after suffering from a back problem since before Christmas, which caused a couple of lay-offs and pain-killing injections.
Cattermole said: “Gus got me really thinking about the game, with positioning and things like that, and I really enjoyed my time with him.
“It’s obviously a change of manager and a change of styles, but the gaffer believes I can affect the game for him in the way he wants to play, playing in that higher position.
“I see my form suffer sometimes.
“I’ve had a couple of injuries to my back this year that have been really tough, but people overlook that.
“I come back, train for one day and then I play. People start giving you some abuse from the side, and you think, ‘Well I’m not even fit’.
“It’s learning again. I’m enjoying the position. You’ve got to work hard and when the gaffer came and played me there, I thought ‘I’m going to have to get fitter because I’m not fit enough to play how he wants me to’.
“I feel it’s coming though.
“I’ve been working hard in training, and I had a couple of behind closed doors games that I really enjoyed.
“I managed to get back in, and I just want to push on now. That’s important for the team.”
Cattermole was the Man of the Match at Norwich after covering more ground than any other player on the pitch, producing three goal-line clearances and, just as importantly, providing the leadership in what was realistically a much-win game.
The ex-Middlesbrough man’s sheer determination was caught on camera after two quickfire goalmouth scrambles, albeit he insists he still hasn’t watched the footage.
But, with Sunderland still a point adrift of safety ahead of Sunday’s visit of Arsenal, Cattermole embodies the spirit in the Black Cats dressing room to give everything they possibly can to keep the club in the Premier League.
“I was chatting with one of the lads on the way home from Norwich and I asked him if he’d been relegated before and he said ‘yes, twice’,” added Sunderland’s longest-serving first-teamer.
“He couldn’t believe I didn’t know.
“He said that you feel like everyone knows and it never leaves you.
“I think I’d feel the same way if we are relegated. It’d kill me and really affect me.
“That’s why you have to fight and do everything you can to survive.
“We’ve made sure between ourselves that no one is in any doubt about what it’s all about and how important it is to make sure we do stay up, and that we can all sit there in the summer and say ‘Yeah, we did everything we could and we couldn’t have done any more’.
“I think that’s the main thing – if you can sit there and say ‘I affected it as much as I could have, said everything I wanted to say and did everything I wanted to do’, then that’s all you can do.”