When Sunderland were trying to see out the final few seconds at Southampton last month, Sam Allardyce introduced skipper John O’Shea from the bench.
With the influential Jan Kirchhoff tiring, Allardyce’s move was understandable, yet bringing on O’Shea and switching to a five-man defence back-fired after Sunderland conceded a stoppage time equaliser when Saints defender Virgil van Dijk got ahead of the Republic of Ireland international to fire home.
O’Shea was again introduced for Kirchhoff in the dying stages of last weekend’s crucial victory at Norwich, albeit this time he operated in a defensive midfield role, rather than as an extra centre-half.
But this time, the move paid off for Sunderland as O’Shea helped to dampen Norwich’s hopes of a late comeback.
“John wasn’t at fault at Southampton, like everybody keeps saying,” said Allardyce.
“Van Dijk scored because we shouldn’t have allowed that ball to go into the box in the first place.
“We put John in a different position on Saturday, a straight swap for Jan sitting in front (of the defence) rather than putting him into a back three.
“You make these decisions and in the end they either go for you or against you, and John was very comfortable in there.
“Jan is playing very, very well, but even though he completed the previous game, he was still looking very tired.
“We needed to make sure we got some fresh legs on to block off the tricky little players that Norwich have in that position like (Nathan) Redmond and (Wes) Hoolahan.”
Since O’Shea lost his starting spot at Southampton, fellow centre-halves Younes Kaboul and Lamine Kone have immediately formed an effective partnership, with Sunderland registering two clean sheets from their last three games.
The only real selection dilemma facing Allardyce for this weekend’s visit of Arsenal is in attack, where he must decide whether to persist with Wahbi Khazri or hand a start to fit-again Duncan Watmore.