Veteran defender John O’Shea has won praise from David Moyes for his “calmness and assurance” at the back.
The 35-year-old captained Sunderland in their 2-1 EFL Cup win over QPR in midweek, with the experienced Republic of Ireland international a vocal presence in the back four.
Communication and organisation has been an issue for Sunderland’s defence in recent games, with Everton’s Romelu Lukaku taking advantage to devastating effect in the last home game.
Younes Kaboul was chief organiser last season in the Black Cats’ successful survival run, playing alongside Lamine Kone at the heart of defence.
But after he was sold to Watford in the summer, the side has lacked that natural leader at the back.
Kone, who was rested for the QPR win, will come back into the side for the visit of Crystal Palace today.
Moyes has a decision to make over who partners him; O’Shea or Papy Djilobodji, who impressed in the cup win but was at fault for the defeat to Tottenham Hotspur last weekend.
“I think John brought us a calmness and assurance at the back [against QPR],” Moyes told the Echo.
“I also thought Papy played well in midweek.
“There were lots of the Tottenham game where he did well. He made the mistake for the goal, but we were under the cosh for long periods of the game.”
Djilobodji, signed for £8million from Chelsea in the summer, hadn’t played a Premier League game before his move to Wearside, while Kone only arrived in January but was an instant hit and has made a big impact.
Moyes said it is not always ideal playing two centre-backs who are both relatively new to the Premier League.
“It is a decision for me. I have to think what is the right one,” added Moyes.
“John is reliable. I know I can call on him, but he knows he isn’t the long-term future for the club. We are looking short term and medium to long-term as well.”
Jermain Defoe will lead the Sunderland attack today, with the striker fit to make his return after missing the QPR win with a slight calf injury picked up against Spurs.
Joel Asoro and Duncan Watmore were paired in attack at Loftus Road.
Moyes added: “The two young boys up front caused problems. Duncan and Joel. We lacked the finishing, but I thought we created enough opportunities to score some goals.
“People like John O’Shea showed his worth to me and the club.”