STEVE Bruce insists dropped skipper Lee Cattermole is still paying the price for last season’s spell on the sidelines.
Cattermole’s ever-present record was ended in Sunday’s first win of the season against Stoke City after boss Bruce replaced the 23-year-old with summer signing David Vaughan.
The move paved off with Vaughan at the heart of Sunderland’s attacking play and bringing the best out of fellow new boy Craig Gardner.
Cattermole will remain in contention for a first-team spot, but Bruce believes the former Middlesbrough midfielder is still feeling his way back from the back problem which saw him ruled out for three months at the start of 2011.
Bruce said: “Lee Cattermole is another one who has been in and out and had two or three serious injuries.
“I am a big believer - and I have been for a long, long time - that you don’t really get that back until you have been back as long as you have been out.
“It’s normal. It’s because they have had serious injuries which take them time to get over. The more they train and play, they get better and better.
“They need games and Lee certainly comes into that category.
“Nobody epitomises what I like about a footballer more than my captain. But at the moment, it’s not going too well for him, so we gave somebody else a go in David Vaughan.
“He brought that little bit of composure we were looking for and had a wonderful debut.”
The comprehensive 4-0 victory over the Potters lifted the gloom hanging over Wearside from Sunderland’s winless start to the season.
Seb Larsson, who completed the win with his second goal for the Black Cats, admits it was a relief in the dressing room to get off the mark.
Larsson said: “It is a massive win because you don’t stop hearing about it, getting that first win.
“We had slipped down the league a little bit and you never want to be there, so it’s nice to get the first three points and hopefully that can really get us flying for the forthcoming games now.
“We know what has been said about the start to the season and we know what we are capable of, so of course we wanted to put it right and get the first win, especially at home.
“We lost the opening two games and we wanted to give the fans something to be proud of.
“We knew the performance was in us and we know we can score goals and it was nice to show that.”