LEE CATTERMOLE admits talk of losing the captain’s armband affected his self-belief during the early exchanges of the campaign.
But the midfielder insists he is beginning to get back into the groove after reclaiming a place in the Sunderland starting line-up following his dip in form.
Speculation was rife during the summer that John O’Shea would succeed Cattermole as Black Cats skipper after arriving in a £5million deal from Manchester United.
Although O’Shea has captained Sunderland in Cattermole’s absence, boss Steve Bruce has kept faith with the influential 23-year-old.
Being Black Cats skipper has not made Cattermole immune from the chop though, with the ex-Middlesbrough man left out for two games before returning against Manchester United and Fulham.
Cattermole told the Echo: “John came in during the summer and straight away, all the headlines were ‘Lee loses the captaincy’.
“Maybe that put a bit of doubt in my mind.
“The gaffer made it clear to me that that wasn’t going to be the case. But it’s stuff that adds up and you start asking questions of yourself.
“I’m a confident lad, though, and I don’t think you become a bad player overnight.
“If you look at the amount of games I’ve played for my age, there won’t be many in the country who’ve played more.
“I’ve been a regular now for a long time and I’m really hungry.
“I thought I did well at Man United and had a decent game last weekend.
“It’s been hard, but I think it’s going to make me a better player.
“You get confidence from playing well at a place like Man United and my level of training has gone up since then.”
Cattermole was dropped to the bench for two games in September and again missed a brace of Premier League encounters against Bolton and Aston Villa last month, as Bruce looked for a winning formula.
But Cattermole has looked more assured since returning to the side and believes being left out has given him renewed hunger.
“This is the best I’ve felt in a while,” added Cattermole, who faces former club Wigan on Saturday.
“Obviously, it’s been a tough start to the season for me. The gaffer brought in a few players in my position.
“In a couple of games, we changed formation and I struggled a bit.
“In the first couple of games of the season, we played 4-4-2 against Liverpool and Newcastle and I thought I played well.
“After that, we played more of a five in midfield and I had some of my quieter games.
“I was left out and the guys who came in did really well in games that I felt I would have flourished in – the Stoke’s and the Bolton’s.
“It wasn’t to be and I got my head down and I’ve been training really well, to be fair.
“I’m really keen at the minute and I’ve got a bit of fire in my belly.”