Chris Young: Whoever Sunderland sign, John O’Shea and Lee Cattermole remain key

Lee Cattermole. Picture by FRANK REID
Lee Cattermole. Picture by FRANK REID
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A pot of gold rests at the end of the rainbow for the survivors of the Premier League cull next May and the desperation to bank that loot is showing.

Bournemouth are splashing out £10million and an estimated £80,000 a week wages on Championship striker Benik Afobe, while Norwich are prepared to invest similarly eye-watering figures on Everton fringe player Steven Naismith.

That might not be the only big-money addition at Carrow Road either, with Norwich ready to tempt Inter Milan centre-half Andrea Ranocchia with the promise of mega money and a get-out clause, should the Canaries be relegated to the Championship.

There’s a few bob to spend at Sunderland – testified by the £4-5m earmarked for Lamine Kone – yet it’s familiar wheeling and dealing for additions to the squad who can make the difference between returning to the Emirates next season and a likely trip to Burton.

Thankfully, Sam Allardyce’s record in finding cost-effective solutions in the transfer market is by and large excellent, and even though the likes of Dame N’Doye won’t set pulses racing, that’s the difficulty which stems from bringing players to a club lying second bottom of the pile.

But whoever Sunderland bring in over the next three weeks, for whatever position or fee, Allardyce is going to need his chief lieutenants; those on-field leaders who guide the side through the regular choppy waters.

If ever a game demonstrated the importance of John O’Shea and Lee Cattermole to Sunderland’s fortunes, then it was a second 3-1 defeat at Arsenal in the space of a month.

For large parts, Sunderland were more than a match for the Premier League leaders, albeit the Black Cats had conceded a desperately soft equaliser when neither Ola Toivonen or particularly Patrick van Aanholt spotted the run of the unmarked Joel Campbell who was able to slot beyond debutant Jordan Pickford.

But when Cattermole and O’Shea were removed from the fray midway through the second half to protect them for Wednesday’s pivotal relegation tussle at Swansea, the resistance to the Gunners evaporated.

Allardyce’s thinking was understandable.

He needs his big-hitters as fresh as possible at the Liberty Stadium and limiting his skipper and vice-captain to an hour or so should avoid them being overly fatigued in south Wales.

O’Shea theoretically limped off with a tight calf, yet there was clearly an element of preserving and protecting the 34-year-old.

Without those two though, it became all too easy for Arsenal, preying upon makeshift centre-half Billy Jones and finding oodles of joy down the right where the pair of Danny Graham and Patrick van Aanholt were unable to prevent Hector Bellerin becoming close friends with the by-line.

The goals for Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud in the last 20 minutes were frighteningly straightforward.

It’s nothing new to suggest that O’Shea and Cattermole are key figures. A succession of Sunderland managers have found that out, regardless of changes in personnel or tactics.

But they remain so, so important towards Sunderland’s fortunes. The four successive defeats suffered last month when Cattermole was on the sidelines was not mere coincidence.

If Allardyce can keep that spine intact, along with Jermain Defoe up top, then Sunderland look a much more effective unit.

There are options to sprinkle around that trio too.

After the pivotal win against Aston Villa, Allardyce spoke about his eagerness to use Adam Johnson more frequently as the most attack-minded of his central midfield trio alongside Cattermole and Yann M’Vila, with the ex-Manchester City man so comfortable in possession and losing his explosiveness as a wideman.

But Jeremain Lens may just have given Allardyce a dilemma to ponder over the next 48 hours after the Dutch international produced by far his most convincing display since Dick Advocaat’s final game at the helm last October.

Lens is never going to be a work-horse in the mould of a Fabio Borini or Duncan Watmore, and needs to be relinquished of as many defensive duties as possible.

That ‘number 10’ role is ideal, even if he notably tracked back on a couple of occasions during the first half.

For all the question marks over Lens’ temperament and work-rate, his talent is not in doubt and he caused Arsenal problems in the first half particularly, albeit benefiting from awful dallying from Gunners skipper Laurent Koscielny for the opening goal.

If there had been a few more around Lens who had produced, then Sunderland might well have caused a genuine cup upset.

Graham cannot continue to be used as a wideman.

It’s clearly not his position and he just doesn’t make a meaningful contribution there.

Ola Toivonen was equally anonymous, as he has been since a bright performance in the Premier League defeat on the same ground a month earlier.

And while Steven Fletcher left the crossbar rattling when he crashed a header against the woodwork, he really should have scored after excellent work from DeAndre Yedlin.

Those deficiencies – in central midfield and attack – really are areas where fresh faces would make a difference for Allardyce.

Whoever Allardyce brings in though, he’s going to need Cattermole and O’Shea for Sunderland to fulfil their sole remaining objective this season.