Jack Rodwell had been praised to the hilt ahead of Sunderland’s crunch game with West Bromwich Albion.
The former Everton and Manchester City midfielder had completed 90 minutes in each of the last three games and was in form, impressing in the Tyne-Wear derby.
There is no reason to change the starting line-up but concerns remain over where Cattermole best fits into Allardyce’s masterplan.Richard Mennear
Sam Allardyce had spoken of the hard work done in helping turn injury-hit Rodwell’s fortunes around.
“I hope I’m not speaking too soon, but certainly his progress has been extremely good,” said Allardyce.
“There is a lot more to come as well in terms of ability.”
But Big Sam sprung a surprise. Rodwell was dropped, with Lee Cattermole in to replace him.
The word in the press room pre-match was that Cattermole had been outstanding on the training field in the two weeks since the derby.
His form on the pitches at the Academy of Light had given Allardyce a major selection headache and ultimately he opted to go with the former Middlesbrough man.
Understandably, Cattermole had been far from happy kicking his heels on the Sunderland bench and hadn’t started a match since the end of February, given the lack of recent games.
The 28-year-old isn’t the type to sulk though. Some players would mope, down tools but their workrate and character are at the opposite end of the spectrum to Cattermole’s.
Cattermole was handed the captain’s armband and led by example with a robust, non-stop display against the Baggies.
Pushed further forward, he was given the freedom to drive Sunderland further up the pitch.
Not his normal or natural role and, at times, his decision making and choice of pass left a lot to be desired.
He lacks the creativity needed but it didn’t stop him giving his all.
Cattermole had a good chance to open the scoring but a heavy touch allowed Foster to close him down first half, while twice in the second half he played Jermain Defoe in.
His workrate, commitment and desire can never be questioned and his experience and leadership skills from previous relegation battles could be key.
But with Jan Kirchhoff excelling in the holding midfield role since arriving in January, there have been questions over where Cattermole fits in to Allardyce’s plans.
Since January, Yann M’Vila hasn’t matched the level of performance he produced in the first half of the season but the Black Cats would miss his physicality in the middle.
Meanwhile, imposing Kirchhoff - who managed to complete the full 90 minutes - had more passes, touches and interceptions than anyone else on the pitch - and it wasn’t even his best game.
At home, with three points a must, Sunderland effectively had three natural holding midfielders in their side; Cattermole, Kirchhoff and M’Vila.
It sounds absurd after watching the team create enough chances (22) in 90 minutes to win two games but Sunderland’s squad lacks playmakers and is heavily reliant on Wahbi Khazri and Fabio Borini.
With Adam Johnson sacked, Duncan Watmore out injured and Jeremain Lens very much out of favour, Allardyce’s attacking options have been hit hard.
Khazri and Borini both helped create numerous chances at the Stadium of Light but there was only Dame N’Doye in terms of attacking replacements on the bench.
Billy Jones, Seb Larsson, Rodwell, John O’Shea and Ola Toivonen have plenty of experience between them - but how many of those are game changers?
Lens didn’t even make the squad.
Questions over his attitude remain but Sunderland could do with someone like him to come off the bench as an impact sub.
Sunderland dominated the Baggies and fully deserved all three points. Aside from score, they couldn’t have done much more.
But with just seven games remaining, Sunderland still need four wins to survive. Draws simply won’t do.
There is no reason to change the starting line-up but concerns remain over where Cattermole best fits into Allardyce’s masterplan.