Jeremain Lens has blown hot and cold since becoming the big-money outlay of Sunderland’s summer spending spree.
Sunderland splashed out on a fee which could eventually rise to £13million for Lens, who had previously worked under ex-Black Cats head coach Dick Advocaat at AZ Alkmaar and PSV Eindhoven.
It’s something I need to adapt to and find my right condition.
The Dutch international has shown glimpses of his quality, most notably his stunning 20-yard lob during Sunderland’s 2-2 draw against West Ham, in Advocaat’s final game in charge.
But Lens – who returned to the starting line-up for last weekend’s Wear-Tyne derby after suspension – has had his troubles with the physicality and defensive responsibilities of Premier League football.
Lens believes he is beginning to acclimatise though and will be able to make a more consistent impact for the relegation-threatened Black Cats.
“Maybe I’m not in my best shape, I got the red card (against West Ham) and we didn’t win any games before Sunday,” said Lens.
“But if you look at all the games, I delivered two assists and scored two goals, so I can be important for the team.
“You need players in your team who can score goals and provide passes.
“The level of the game, the high speed of the game here is a big difference.
“It’s something I need to adapt to and find my right condition.
“I have the feeling that game-by-game I’m getting in better shape and think I can be important for this team.”
Lens was criticised by Advocaat for his failure to track back sufficiently, but there will be no leeway on that score under Sam Allardyce, with the new Sunderland manager immediately making his priorities clear for a side that shipped 18 goals in the opening eight games.
“When the new manager came into this situation, he needed to find his way to turn everything around,” said Lens.
“In his opinion – and in my opinion as well – we need to start keeping clean sheets, so we can go for a draw or win the game.
“That’s our focus now.
“From that point, we can get some good results.”
A first clean sheet of the campaign in the Wear-Tyne derby was testament to the defensive work Allardyce has already done on the training ground in his brief spell in charge at the Stadium of Light.
Lens was in awe of the atmosphere against Newcastle, as Sunderland registered their elusive first win, but the 27-year-old knows there is far more to be done if the Black Cats are to ease their relegation worries.
“I think everything around this game was amazing,” added Lens.
“We didn’t start well, but all the fans in the stadium were brilliant.
“If you win this game, everything is better than you can imagine when you lose.
“I’m happy that we won, not only because it’s Newcastle, but also because we needed some points to get higher up the table.
“It’s too soon to say a corner has been turned.
“But with winning a game, everything can change.
“You can be in a better mood and win all the games after this one.
“But we have to take it game-by-game. We need to focus on Everton this weekend and try to win that one.”