GUS POYET had a change of heart over resting Jermain Defoe in the FA Cup, to ensure that the Sunderland striker brushed off any remaining rust.
Poyet was planning to relegate Defoe to the bench for Tuesday’s FA Cup fourth round replay at Fulham after the England international had started every game since arriving from MLS outfit Toronto.
The Sunderland boss was conscious that the 32-year-old had been pushed hard since returning to the Premier League, while the Black Cats are also in the midst of three games inside a fortnight.
But Poyet ultimately opted to start with Defoe at Craven Cottage – both to further improve the frontman’s match-fitness and ensure Sunderland secured a place in the fifth round of the cup.
“When I named the team and I saw who was playing, I decided to start with him,” said Poyet.
“I wanted to start strong. I didn’t want people to think we were going to start in one way and then change.
“He played 90 minutes. Now he’s match-fit. That’s helped him.”
With Will Buckley, Jack Rodwell, Seb Larsson, Billy Jones and, at the last minute, Connor Wickham, all missing the Fulham game through injury, Poyet was not blessed with options against the Championship side anyway, with only five players on the bench.
But both Emanuele Giaccherini and Ricky Alvarez impressed after being given a rare chance in the starting line-up.
And Poyet believes that when he does have a fully fit squad available again, he now has the right balance of options to suit each game.
“It’s why I want the whole team fit,” added Poyet.
“There are moments in some games when you need the presence and power of Jack Rodwell.
“There are others when you need Giaccherini to get between the lines and give you energy.
“If you can manage that well and the team understand why, it’s difficult for the opposition.
“You’re not predictable and you’ve got different qualities.
“You can open up the game or be really solid and big. It’s easy when you’re winning, of course.
“That makes the whole situation better.”