GUS POYET admits he faces a “challenge” to keep his ex-Manchester United pairing together at the heart of Sunderland’s defence.
Sunderland have kept clean sheets in two out of the three Premier League games since John O’Shea was reunited with Wes Brown in central defence.
Head coach Poyet faced leaving out captain O’Shea for tonight’s visit of Chelsea, before the 32-year-old shrugged off the groin injury suffered in Saturday’s stalemate at Aston Villa to return to training yesterday.
But even though O’Shea is expected to continue alongside Brown at the Stadium of Light, Poyet says it is pivotal the pair stay fit, particularly after the latter spent 21 months on the sidelines through injury.
Poyet told the Echo: “It’s no coincidence that they played together in both games where we got clean sheets.
“The one we didn’t, Wes was sent off and we played an hour without him.
“But it’s a challenge for me as a manager to keep them both fit and maintain that level of performance throughout the team.”
He added: “With John, I thought on Sunday ‘no chance’.
“And then he said ‘I didn’t pull it, it was just a strange feeling that something wasn’t right’.
“On Sunday he felt better and on Monday we had to slow him down, but yesterday, he trained no problems at all.
“It’s great news because I thought he wasn’t going to play against Chelsea.
“It was a happy surprise yesterday morning because we were paying close attention to him.
“Let’s hope nothing goes wrong, but I’m delighted that John will be available.”
O’Shea is also an influential figure off-the-pitch after taking the captain’s armband from Lee Cattermole during the summer.
Poyet says the Republic of Ireland international has been the perfect buffer between the dressing room and the manager’s office in his two months in charge at the Stadium of Light.
The Uruguayan added: “He’s very open and honest. You can talk to him and he’ll tell you the truth.
“I always ask him for opinions and ask him how the team feels.
“He’s a good captain and a good link between the players and the manager and staff.
“You need your captain to be a character and a leader of the team. He’s a very good one.”