FIT-AGAIN Carlos Cuellar will make his return to the Sunderland fold tomorrow, as Gus Poyet looks to keep his fringe players happy.
Cuellar has not featured since the Black Cats’ defeat at Hull City in November, with Wes Brown’s return, coupled with a hip injury, keeping the Spaniard on the sidelines.
But Cuellar has spent the last fortnight back in training and is expected to start tomorrow’s FA Cup fifth round clash against Southampton, with Brown suspended and fellow centre-back John O’Shea due to be rested.
And head coach Poyet says it is important to maintain the team spirit within the squad by ensuring every player feels they are making a contribution.
Poyet told the Echo: “We’re going to use Carlos tomorrow, if we can.
“The idea is to keep spirits in the group up.
“I’m very pleased with this group. I’m not talking about anything that happened before, with the players who left.
“But it’s about how this group is getting together in a better way.
“Without a doubt, winning games helps; big celebrations help because you become more passionate with your team-mates and a bigger fan of the club you play for.
“That’s helping the group to get sorted, which is important.”
Although Poyet will hand opportunities to Sunderland’s fringe players in the fourth meeting with the Saints this season – after the Black Cats triumphed in the Capital One Cup clash between the sides – the Uruguayan says the encounter holds plenty of significance.
Not only would victory take Sunderland within one game of a second trip to Wembley this season, it would also lead to next month’s trip to Liverpool being rearranged – a scenario that will still occur if the Black Cats lose, but Brendan Rodgers’ side reach the quarter-finals at the expense of Arsenal.
The trip to Anfield would be the second successive daunting league game in a row after next Saturday’s trip to Arsenal, and Poyet realises that breaking up that run could provide a helping hand in the relegation battle.
“You try to look a few games ahead in your mind and what you need to do,” added Poyet.
“But you don’t expect to have three games away from home.
“I think this game against Southampton might be the most important one of them all because then we could get through and the Liverpool game would be postponed.
“Then it wouldn’t be two tough away games (in a row) which would change things completely.
“Things like that can change the season.
“You need to play the games, but you know the ones that will be very difficult and the ones which you will have a better chance in.”