Jack Rodwell is “getting it back” – and that could spell great news for Sunderland.
That is the hope of Black Cats boss David Moyes after restoring the 25-year-old to the centre of midfield.
I thought Jack played as well as anybody.
Rodwell shook off a two-month absence to make a fine first start since the 4-1 home defeat to Arsenal when Sunderland took on another title-chaser, Liverpool, in the first match of 2017.
And after the encouragement of that display, he was even better in the second fixture of the year, the goalless draw with Burnley in the FA Cup.
The midfielder looked the best bet, in a red and white jersey anyway, to break the deadlock at the Stadium of Light.
In fact, of the eight attempts at goal, Rodwell had half of them – three rasping shots and a header.
While he is still finding his feet after such a long lay-off, the signs are good as Moyes explained.
“I thought Jack played as well as anybody,” said the boss.
“He was still running out of a bit of steam with 20 minutes to go, but hopefully we’ll be able to build his fitness levels back up over the coming weeks.
“I think Jack’s definitely getting it back.
“He had two or three attempts at goal and passed the ball relatively well.
“There were some good moments and we need him.
“We’re needing someone to take a bit of responsibility in the middle of the pitch for us and Jack’s just beginning to do a bit of that.”
With Didier Ndong away on Africa Cup of Nations duty with hosts Gabon, Rodwell’s positive approach is just what the Black Cats require.
The former Everton and Man City star got the side on the front foot against the Clarets and they will need that again this Saturday in the Premier League against Stoke City.
It is a crucial match for the Black Cats against Mark Hughes’s side, who are comfortably placed in 11th in the top flight.
However, they are not exactly firing on all cylinders.
Stoke only ended a five-game winless run in the division when they beat out-of-sorts Watford last time out.
The Potters last night extended Peter Crouch’s stay at the Bet 365 Stadium until the summer of 2018.
Crouch, who joined Stoke from Tottenham for £10million in 2011, has scored 49 goals in 186 appearances.
His current deal was due to expire at the end of this season, but after scoring twice in his last two league starts, the 35-year-old has put pen to paper on a new deal.
“Peter still has a great deal to offer us as a player,” said Stoke chief executive Tony Scholes.
“We are pleased he has decided to extend his stay with us.”