Sam Allardyce hopes Ola Toivonen’s initial joy in his new role proves to be a sign of things to come from the Swedish international.
Injuries to Seb Larsson and Lee Cattermole forced Allardyce to turn to Toivonen in a defensive midfield role alongside Yann M’Vila for last weekend’s defeat at Arsenal.
Toivonen’s first two games under Allardyce had been distinctly underwhelming, with the 29-year-old substituted before half-time against Newcastle due to a groin injury, before he was again poor for 45 minutes in last month’s loss against Southampton.
However, the on-loan Rennes midfielder was much improved against the Gunners, despite relinquishing his regular role in the hole behind the strikers.
Allardyce said: “It was borne out of Jack (Rodwell) only just getting back, Seb had got injured, Lee had got injured, so who do we play there?
“We tried Ola.
“He hadn’t had the best of times since I’ve been here with niggly injuries coming back from international games.
“A couple of times we played him in his more suited position, he hadn’t done as well as I expected.
“But at Arsenal, he seemed to link up pretty well with Yann.
“It’s nice to see when someone plays in a different position and does well.
“You can change positions if you want to. Some players just can’t do it mentally.”
With Cattermole and Larsson still sidelined, Toivonen should keep his place for tomorrow’s visit of in-form Watford who are currently free of relegation concerns.
However, with newly-promoted sides often losing steam in the second half of the season, Allardyce says Sunderland are still facing one of their potential relegation rivals tomorrow.
“It’s more important that we beat Watford than Arsenal or Chelsea,” said Allardyce.
“At the moment, Watford are in no relegation trouble whatsoever with 22 points from 15 games.
“But they may find it tougher later on in the season.
“They may hit a spell when you can’t pick up the wins that you had done previously.”
“But they’ve done brilliantly so far, particularly away from home where they’ve picked up lots of points and scored goals.
“We’ll have to be right on our game on Saturday if we’re to get anything out of this one.”