Chris Coleman put his faith in youth against Hull City on Saturday, but it was the performance of two veterans that provided the platform for success.
John O’Shea and Lee Cattermole have come in for their fair share of criticism this season, given Sunderland once again find themselves floundering at the wrong end of the league table.
Injuries have limited Coleman’s options, which led to six players aged 23 or under starting against Hull.
The average age of the side was just 25.
While the youngsters all excelled, praise too must go to the elder statesmen of the side; O’Shea and Cattermole.
Cattermole, in particular, was outstanding.
Granted, the bar hasn’t been set high, but this was his best performance of the season in a game that Sunderland needed to win.
Having only recently returned from a thigh injury, the Teessider is far from full fitness but that didn’t stop him bossing central midfield.
His passing can always improve, but there were some very good ones in there as well, trying his best to keep Sunderland moving.
He shielded the defence well and helped Ethan Robson through the game, the academy product impressing on his league debut.
Darron Gibson has proved a big loss, his range of passing is not matched by anyone else in the squad, but Cattermole showed that he is more than capable of playing the holding midfield role in this Coleman side.
Cattermole produced a superb tackle in the build-up to Joel Asoro’s fine winning goal, Josh Maja and George Honeyman combining well to set up the Swedish teenager.
Cattermole’s displays this season have been below par, but, against Hull, he showed that he is very much up for the fight of keeping Sunderland in the Championship this season.
O’Shea, in his 200th league start for the club, was a calming influence at the back alongside young loan duo Tyias Browning and Jake Clarke-Salter.
And the experienced pair won praise from Coleman.
“They were fabulous. You need that blend, of course, that experience. Certain times of the game, you need to know when not to run and when to hold your ground and stay in your space,” said Coleman.
“Both players did some brilliant things for us: Sheasy brilliant defensively; talking, encouraging, some great headers and anticipation; Catts, in the centre, made great decisions.
“That keeps Robbo nice and calm right beside him. Both players used their experience, it was two very good performances.”
Ahead of the game, Coleman launched a strong defence of O’Shea and Cattermole, praising the pair for their influence off the pitch and for helping guide the younger players who are having to play a big role for Sunderland.
Against Hull, the pair repaid that show of faith in them with two strong performances on the pitch, helping provide the platform for a big win in the fight for survival.