GUS POYET’S beady eye will pay particular attention to one player at the Academy of Light tomorrow.
As Sunderland’s cluster of internationals return to training after representing their countries, this will be an acid test of Jozy Altidore’s character.
It was a hugely significant snub for Altidore at Wembley last weekend.
While the American strode around the pitch sharply dressed in his Hugo Boss cup final suit with the rest of his team-mates for a pre-match walkabout, he will have been gutted inside.
Altidore had featured in 32 of Sunderland’s previous 35 games this season, yet, for the biggest one of the lot, he found himself resigned to a watching brief.
Even Poyet didn’t know how Altidore would react when asked about his decision to leave the 24-year-old out of the matchday 18 last weekend.
To drop Altidore not just from the starting XI, but off the bench too, has to prompt significant questions over his future both for the rest of this season and beyond.
There was a sense that the £6million summer signing’s display at Arsenal in the cup final dress rehearsal was the final straw.
It wasn’t just that he drew a blank for the 30th time in 32 games.
It was the general malaise which surrounded Altidore; a failure to win an aerial challenge or offer an elusive option on the counter-attack.
He was the overwhelming winner among several players who looked as if they were saving themselves for Wembley, and he paid the ultimate price.
Even before Sunderland’s team-sheet was announced on Sunday, Poyet had hinted that he was ready to abandon the Altidore plan.
“Before Arsenal, I had a couple of options which I didn’t use. Now they have more of a chance,” said Poyet last week.
There have been odd games when Altidore has made the most of his undoubted raw tools – demonstrating that power, muscle and pace in the 4-3 league defeat to Chelsea and, particularly, the Tyne-Wear derby.
But they have been exceptions.
Altidore has become less effective as the season has worn on and his confidence has dimmed.
The basic techniques of leading the line seem to have evaded him. That was one of the criticisms of Altidore last season, despite his bumper haul of 31 goals for AZ Alkmaar.
Several pundits in Holland had raised questions over Altidore’s technical proficiency and even though the Premier League relies more on physique and pace than the Dutch one, that has continued to be a source of scepticism.
With his selection options now, Poyet doesn’t need to keep faith with Altidore either and desperately hope that the one-time Hull loanee can turn it around.
Fabio Borini produced a stellar display in his favoured central role at Wembley, while Steven Fletcher looked sharp after coming off the bench, despite that agonising late squandered chance.
With Poyet boasting high hopes for January signing Nacho Scocco over the run-in too, Altidore could face a real problem earning a return to the fold.
Perhaps a time-out will benefit Altidore. As he admitted after the derby, his confidence in front of goal was suffering and he did not feel as if he was doing himself justice.
It’s unlikely that losing his place at Sunderland will cost him a chance of going to the World Cup either.
Realistically, USA boss Jurgen Klinsmann will already have sketched out his squad for Brazil and Altidore will be one of the first names on it, given his vastly different goals return on the international stage.
Minimal domestic action at this late stage of the season is not going to drastically harm Altidore’s fitness prior to the finals.
But regardless of which division Sunderland are playing in next season, there have to be questions now over whether Poyet has decided enough is enough with Altidore and he is a victim of the remoulding of the Wearsiders’ attacking arsenal during the summer.
The absence of a striker scoring regularly in this Sunderland XI is the clear deficiency.
Even if Borini manages to produce a healthy return as a central frontman during the run-in, he is still only on loan from Liverpool.
By Poyet’s own admission, there were enquiries for Altidore during the January window, but they were not concrete enough for Sunderland to give them genuine consideration.
But unless Altidore can put aside his Wembley disappointment and finally come good over the campaign’s finale, then the summer may be a different matter.