Lee Cattermole has been a miss for Sunderland during his injury absence, admits Sam Allardyce.
Cattermole has an outside chance of being involved in today’s trip to Manchester City after three weeks out with a recurrence of a back injury.
Sunderland have lost all three games since Cattermole and fellow midfielder Seb Larsson were confined to the treatment table, with suspension to Jack Rodwell further stretching Allardyce’s options in the middle of the park at the Etihad Stadium.
And while Allardyce insists Cattermole has to be 100 per cent fit before he resumes his place in Sunderland’s engine room, he acknowledges the gulf that the Teessider has left.
“We need Lee Cattermole to come back with sustained performances at the level we know he can play,” said Allardyce.
“Have we missed him? Yes we probably have looking back.
“He might have made a difference for us.
“But we all have to do without players at some stage and that’s why he have a squad that is supposed to step in.
“It looked like it was able to do that, but the last three games have been very disappointing to me.
“Not so much the performance at Arsenal, which was fantastic, but the lack of conversion of chances.
“And then the lackadaisical way we’ve started the last two games when we’ve lost them both in the first five or 10 minutes.”
Cattermole started the season in awful fashion, with the 27-year-old off-the-pace physically and making a series of costly errors - including cheap penalties conceded at Leicester and Aston Villa.
But he eventually returned to form and remains a pivotal figure for the Black Cats.
In the 27 Premier League games that Cattermole played last season, Sunderland registered 32 out of their 37 points, while all their points this season have come when he has been in the side.