Sam Allardyce admits he was taken aback to learn that Jack Rodwell is suspended after starting just six games this season.
Rodwell will miss Boxing Day’s trip to his former club Manchester City through a one-match ban after receiving a fifth yellow card of the campaign in last weekend’s defeat at Chelsea.
Injuries have limited Rodwell’s involvement to six starts in all competitions this season, with the 24-year-old included in the starting line-up for the first time by Allardyce last weekend.
But despite such limited action, the midfielder has regularly found himself in the referee’s notebook – a habit which has not impressed Allardyce.
“I was surprised to learn he was suspended because he hasn’t played that much,” said Allardyce.
“He has to control himself more because he did give away a lot of fouls at Chelsea and deserved to get booked.
“He’s not tackling for the sake of winning the ball. He keeps missing the ball and fouling the opposition player.
“He has to show more control when he’s served this suspension.
“But at least he’s beginning to show a little bit more of what we expected.”
Rodwell’s absence against City further limits the midfield options of Allardyce, who is already without regulars Lee Cattermole and Seb Larsson.
On-loan Rennes midfielder Ola Toivonen produced another poor display at Chelsea, before the Swedish international was taken off at half-time.
But with Rodwell already out, Jordi Gomez is the only other senior midfielder available to Allardyce and the Spaniard hasn’t started for the Black Cats since last month’s defeat against Southampton.
The other possible option available to Allardyce would be to use ex-Man City winger Adam Johnson in a deeper central midfield role after the 28-year-old has made a positive contribution from the bench in each of the last four games.