David Moyes believes Sunderland have missed captain Lee Cattermole’s “competitive spirit” – as competition for midfield places hots up.
The Black Cats skipper missed the start of the campaign after undergoing surgery on a double hernia, making his return in the defeat to Tottenham Hotspur last week.
His return to fitness – boosted by a 20-minute run-out in the midweek EFL Cup win over QPR – has handed Sunderland a massive lift.
It comes as Didier Ndong settles into life on Wearside, Jan Kirchhoff and Jack Rodwell are back from injury and Paddy McNair staked his claim with a match-winning double in the cup victory.
“We need Lee’s experience and that competitive spirit,” said Moyes, ahead of today’s Premier League game against Crystal Palace at the Stadium of Light.
“We have missed that in some games.
“I think, as well, Catts coming back in and the introduction at the same time of Didier Ndong has given us a feeling of being better.
“We have competition for places in central midfield – Jan Kirchhoff, Paddy McNair and Jack Rodwell too.
“We need the players in the side to play well as there are now other players that can come in and play their roles.
“We need performances, to play well and score goals and help the team score goals.”
Moyes options have been boost by the exploits of former Manchester United youngster McNair, after his heroics in the cup.
The 21-year-old is likely to be back on the bench today.
But Moyes admits he has given him a selection headache.
“Yes, he has because he scored twice and we don’t have enough people scoring goals,” added Moyes.
“He has really good energy, his stats are good when he plays, his running etc.
“We just need to maybe find a way of getting him bedded in. I’m pleased he got the goals though because it took any edge of the way he started for us.”
McNair – who scored an own goal on his Sunderland debut in the season opener at Manchester City – grabbed the headlines for all the right reasons against QPR.
But club record signing Ndong also starred at Loftus Road, with the £13.6million signing set to be unleashed again on Palace today.
Moyes added: “We tried to keep Ndong tucked in a little bit at QPR.
“Later in the game when we needed a goal he went wide. He is a boy who can do three or four roles for us.
“The biggest thing is us making sure we use his energy well.
“He has been good on the ball for us.”