JOHN O’SHEA believes keeping Sunderland’s spine intact has been the key to their defensive resilience at the start of the season.
O’Shea continued a remarkable week on a personal level yesterday by penning a two-year extension to his Sunderland contract – 48 hours after marking his 100th cap for the Republic of Ireland by netting a last-gasp equaliser against Germany.
The 33-year-old has been part of a Sunderland defence which has shipped just seven goals in the opening seven games of the Premier League campaign – only tomorrow’s opponents Southampton conceding fewer in the Premier League this season.
While Gus Poyet has incorporated eight fresh faces into Sunderland’s ranks this summer, the first-choice figures in the heart of the back four have remained the same.
O’Shea, Wes Brown and the returning Santiago Vergini have occupied the central defensive berths, Vito Mannone has kept his spot in goal and Lee Cattermole has thrived in the protective role in front of the back four.
And that familiarity between the key figures at the back has been a pivotal factor in Sunderland’s solidity, says O’Shea.
The Sunderland captain, back training at the Academy of Light yesterday after his heroics for Ireland in midweek, told the Echo: “It’s definitely been important.
“Catts has started the season fantastically and we need him to maintain that form.
“But it is very important to have that spine remain in place.
“The spine of the team is generally the most important part.
“If you can maintain the same type of players as much as possible in there, then when you do have to make those one or two changes, it doesn’t affect the team too much.”
O’Shea’s previous contract at Sunderland was due to expire next summer, but, after losing Phil Bardsley and Jack Colback for nothing in June, the Black Cats have been proactive in tying the skipper down.
The former Manchester United man’s contract has been on Sunderland’s agenda since the summer and he is now likely to see out an illustrious career at the Stadium of Light after tying himself to the club until the summer of 2017.
“Since I arrived at Sunderland I have enjoyed every minute and I’m really happy that I can continue here for another two years,” said O’Shea, who joined Sunderland in a £5million move from the Old Trafford club three years ago.
“To captain a club like this and to play in front of our fantastic supporters is a huge honour and I look forward to showing my commitment to the club on the pitch in the years to come.”
Black Cats boss Poyet added: “I am delighted that John has agreed to stay with us for at least another two years.
“He is our captain, one of our leaders and I am sure he will continue to help us get better and stronger as a team.
“I really look forward to continuing to work with John.”
H Wes Brown on Southampton – p102