Chris Coleman on Jason Steele, the form of Sunderland's January signings and the relegation fight
He was moments away from bringing his troubled time at Sunderland to an end, but now it seems Jason Steele will have a defining contribution in the club's battle to beat the drop.
With Lee Camp preparing to seal his switch from Cardiff City on transfer deadline night, Steele had become the Black Cats’ third-choice keeper and travelled to Derby County to complete a move.
It fell through, though, Camp struggled for form and Robbin Ruiter suffered a bad finger injury.
Sunderland manager Chris Coleman had talked up Steele’s attitude right from day one, the only concerns concerning his form and reliability on the pitch.
At Millwall on Saturday, following his recall in place of Camp, Steele allayed some of those fears, temporarily at least, and for now the jersey seems to be his.
Coleman was full of praise.
“I was pleased with how he did,” said the Welshman.
“It’s not easy to play for Sunderland, especially if you’re a goalkeeper because you’re the last man and one little mistake and you’re in trouble.
“Of course, Jason had a tough time [earlier in the season], but I thought he showed good courage at Millwall.
“He showed a really good attitude since it didn’t work out for him in the transfer window and he came back.
“He’s shown a really good attitude in training – he’s been positive and he’s shown a really good attitude around the place and I thought he played well.
“He could have gone the other way since his move to Derby fell through, but, if anything, he upped his game and worked really hard in training. He’s never been a problem anyway.
“I was pleased for him because it’s a tough place to play as a keeper, the way Millwall play with a lot of crosses and a lot of diagonal balls into the box, but I thought he coped with it really well.”
Coleman made six changes, two enforced, for the 1-1 draw with Millwall and it was again noticeable how reliant he was on young and experienced talent.
On-loan Liverpool midfielder Ovie Ejaria was a creative presence in midfield, but, in truth, Sunderland were second best for much of the second half.
Coleman would clearly like to have more experience at his disposal, but he insists he is pleased to be working with a core of players who are desperate to perform for the club.
He said: “Where we were in the transfer window, with no money to invest, no money to buy, we had to look at what we needed.
“In midfield, we lost one player to Watford who didn’t want to be with us and gained a player, in Ovie, who’s younger, full of spirit, and wants to come and play for us.
“He wants to be with us, he wants to progress and play a lot of football between now and the end of the season. It’s the same with Ashley Fletcher and Jake Clarke-Salter. That’s where we are financially.
“We didn’t have too much choice. It was very much that we had to work hard to bring in the players we did, because, financially, we didn’t have anything to invest.
“Ovie’s come to us with a little problem with his thigh. He’s played the first few games then missed a couple. He’s a good player.
“It’s hard for him because he’s come out of under-23 football playing for Liverpool in games where they dominate and come to us, bottom of a brutal league, which is very physical, but he’s coped very well.
“He’s very brave in possession.
“He’s done well, but there’s more to come from him.
“I think he’ll get better and better with the more games he plays but he’s a good player.
“You can have a squad of 100 players, but it’s having a core, a group, that actually want to be at the club and want to progress.
“For us, on the back of a season where we were relegated, a lot of players left and I think we invested £1.25million, there were a lot of negatives, so you’re always chasing, always fighting.
“We’ve been at the wrong end of the league most of the season so it’s tough but I think the faces we’ve brought in have given us fresh impetus and they’ve done very, very well.
“We were missing Jake Clarke-Salter, who I think would thrive in a game like Saturday’s, with a bit of fight in it.
“But the players we’ve got fit, train every day and play week in, week out are doing what they can. In the last three games, they’ve done what they can.
“That’s what we’ve got and it’s going to get us to where we need to be.”