Lamine Kone insists he is injury-free for Sunderland’s crunch clash against West Brom this weekend, despite pulling out of international duty.
January signing Kone missed the Ivory Coast’s back-to-back African Cup of Nations qualifiers as a precaution after sustaining a calf problem during the Tyne-Wear derby a fortnight ago.
But the centre-half has recovered well during the break from Premier League action and expects to keep his place for tomorrow’s visit of the Baggies, as Sunderland look to record their first win in five games.
“I had a bit of a problem with my calf in the game against Newcastle, and we didn’t really want to take the risk by going away on international duty,” said Kone.
“It was better to stay here, so I could make sure I was fit.
“Hopefully, I will be in the squad for West Brom without any problems.”
Kone has partnered fellow French-speaking defender Younes Kaboul for the last two games, and the duo have immediately formed an effective double-act.
Kaboul was forced off in the latter stages of the derby, but has been back in full training this week, with the ex-Spurs man expected to get the nod ahead of captain John O’Shea.
“I played the first few games with John O’Shea and the last two alongside Younes,” said Kone.
“I get on really well with both of them, on and off the pitch, which is important.
“Things are going well.
“We’ve gelled together and we’ve got a good understanding.”
However, while the two centre-halves have been solid, Sunderland have not been able to end the wait for a clean sheet – the streak without a shut-out now standing at 16 games.
It’s a pattern which Sam Allardyce’s men desperately need to end against a West Brom side who are the second lowest scorers on the road in the Premier League.
Kone said: “It’s always frustrating as a defender when you’ve let goals in.
“Maybe, it’s a little lack of concentration towards the end of the game, or a bit of tiredness after working so hard.
“Also, in the situation we’re in, we’re playing with a bit of pressure, which is always hard.
“But it’s up to us as defenders to go out and work even harder, and we’ll do that this weekend against West Brom to make sure we don’t let goals in.”
With Allardyce believing that Sunderland need another four wins to beat the drop, the Stadium of Light will inevitably be fraught with anxiety tomorrow on a pivotal afternoon in the survival battle, as relegation rivals Norwich and Newcastle meet in a crunch clash at Carrow Road.
But Kone was part of a Lorient side who successfully avoided the drop in Ligue 1 last season and insists he relishes the do-or-die element of fighting relegation.
“I don’t mind playing in this sort of situation,” he added.
“I’ve been in a similar situation before and I have the experience under my belt.
“It certainly isn’t something that scares me.
“I signed here with Sunderland to help the club stay in the Premier League.
“I think one of the most important things is to win your games at home.
“Also, you need to be together as a team, and united as a group.
“Since January, we’ve seen that we’ve been really strong as a unit.
“The one thing we have lacked perhaps at some points is a little bit of luck, with the last-minute goals we’ve let in.
“But hopefully that will turnaround this weekend against West Brom.”