JACK RODWELL has been challenged by Gus Poyet to be an undroppable component in the Sunderland line-up.
Rodwell made his first start in six games in yesterday’s 3-2 defeat at his former club Manchester City, as Sunderland began 2015 with a first loss on the road since October.
The £10million summer signing wasn’t even on the bench for last weekend’s stalemate at Aston Villa, with Poyet looking to spark a reaction in the England international by leaving him out of proceedings.
But Rodwell impressed in a holding midfield role at the Etihad – making a couple of crunching challenges and netting Sunderland’s first goal – and hopes can now go on to be a first-team regular after a tough start to his career at the Stadium of Light.
Rodwell told the Echo: “The manager just said to me, ‘make sure I can pick you’.
“But you want to do well every game, so I don’t think I had anything to prove (after Aston Villa).
“I think prior to these last few games, I felt I was coming to a bit of fitness, but then a bit of sickness kept me out of the team.
“I want to show why the club invested in me now.
“We’ve got a good squad here and the gaffer is trying to use everyone as much as he can.
“He said to me he wants me to play and then when I do play, make it easy for him to pick me the following week.
“So I’m aiming to do that.”
With Lee Cattermole missing out with a groin injury and Liam Bridcutt unable to feature during his recovery from concussion sustained at Aston Villa last weekend, Rodwell was deployed as the holding player in Sunderland’s midfield – a role he fulfilled effectively.
“It’s either a specialist role, or one for an experienced player,” said the 23-year-old.
“It’s my first time playing there for Sunderland, but I played it a couple of times for Everton and Man City, so I was happy to play there.”
Rodwell’s goal – his second in Sunderland colours – sparked a comeback from the visitors who trailed 2-0, yet fought back to all-square with another ex-City player, Adam Johnson, netting the equaliser.
But within three minutes of Johnson’s third in four games, City regained the lead when substitute Frank Lampard was given too much room to head home.
“Obviously coming back to Man City and scoring is good on a personal level, but we wanted to get some points on the board,” added Rodwell.
“We went two goals down and I suppose you can say we showed some character to come back, they roll over teams at that stage.
“But we didn’t get the points.
“It is frustrating, but defensively it’s always going to be tough there.
“In the first half, I thought we were poor on the ball, but in the second half we came out a little bit better.”