SUNDERLAND defender John O’Shea admits he needed to resume playing first-team football before the end of the season with the European Championships on the horizon.
O’Shea suffered no ill-effects on his return to the fold at Aston Villa last weekend after sustaining a calf strain in last month’s victory over QPR.
The 30-year-old had been in imposing form prior to his injury, with the Black Cats tellingly struggling without the former Manchester United man in their FA Cup quarter-final exit to Everton.
But the Republic of Ireland defender hopes he can remain injury-free for the final three games of the campaign, as he looks to remain fully fit in the run-up to Euro 2012.
O’Shea told the Echo: “I’d had a great run in the team and then it was just a little bit frustrating to pick up a small calf injury.
“I missed some hugely important games during those weeks.
“The cup games are the ones you want to play in as a footballer – the chance of semi-finals and finals don’t come around too often.
“I had to be patient and make sure I came back right. I needed that game against Aston Villa and I’m glad I came through the 90 minutes.
“I was feeling it a little bit in the first half, but, in the second half, I felt much stronger and hopefully I can finish the season now.”
Sunderland will continue to have a say on matters at the wrong end of the table this weekend, with third bottom Bolton heading to the Stadium of Light fresh from Tuesday night’s crucial win at Villa.
But the Black Cats could also dictate the destination of the Premier League title, with league leaders Manchester United visiting Wearside on the final day of the season.
O’Shea is ignoring immediate talk of facing his former club though, concentrating instead on getting Sunderland back into the top 10 with victories against Bolton and Fulham.
“First and foremost, I want to do my best for Sunderland and make sure we finish as high as we can,” he added.
“The games that we’ve got left are going to be hugely important in terms of both halves of the table.
“Fingers crossed we can get a win against Bolton on Saturday and then go down to Fulham, who went above us last weekend.”