JACK Colback says David Vaughan and Craig Gardner have helped make him a better player by providing extra competition for places in Sunderland’s midfield this season.
The former youth-team and Reserve team captain has continued to make progress in Sunderland’s starting line-up, despite the influx of new midfielders last summer.
And Martin O’Neill – who has fielded the 22-year-old Tynesider as regularly as Steve Bruce did previously – says that not only has Colback already proven himself a Premier League player, but has the potential to improve markedly in the seasons ahead.
Colback himself says he is only responding to the challenges of having to compete in a squad which has improved every year since its return to the Premier League.
He told the Echo: “The squad has been getting better and better every season, so as a player already at the club, you know you’ve got to work hard and improve if you’re going to keep up.
“I was really pleased at the start of this season that I was in the first 11 for the game we drew at Liverpool because I knew the club had brought in more good players and I could easily have missed out.
“Since then I’ve just tried to hold on to a place as much as possible and I’ve been pleased at how many times I’ve played.
“Some people would say new signings coming in is a threat because there are more players who can take your place.
“But I think you benefit both ways from good new signings coming in – you benefit because you have to be on top of your own game if you’re going to get into the side and you also benefit by learning from new players too.
“Craig Gardner, for example, is always practicing his finishing. It’s no coincidence that he regularly scores goals from midfield and you can pick up on things like that.”
Colback, who scored his debut senior Sunderland goal against Everton on Boxing Day and followed it up with a fine strike against Middlesbrough in the FA Cup fourth round replay earlier this month, feels his own goal ratio can begin to improve as he targets that area of his game for improvement.
But he knows the challenge to keep his place will continue, especially now that Gardner and Vaughan have settled into their stride at Sunderland.
“They’re good quality players and it was only a matter of time before they proved that,” said Colback.
“We had a difficult start to the season and it wasn’t easy for them.
“But they’ve shown in the last few months what they’re capable of and I wasn’t surprised by that.
“I always felt Sunderland fans would start seeing the best of them after a few months because you could see in training, even over the summer, the quality they had.”