Lee Johnson gives this view on Carl Winchester's long-term Sunderland position after 'outstanding' midfield display
Lee Johnson says he is still working on areas of Carl Winchester's midfield game, but hailed an 'outstanding' performance against Oxford United and said the popular 28-year-old 'is worth his weight in gold' to the squad.
Oxford United and said the popular 28-year-old 'is worth his weight in gold' to the squad.
Winchester has played the vast majority of the campaign at right back and excelled, but injuries to Corry Evans and Luke O'Nien have moved him back into the middle of the pitch.
Asked whether he felt this was a chance for Winchester to prove his long-term credentials before the 1-1 draw with Oxford, Johnson told The Echo.
"I think he's a great ball player, whether it be in midfield or in at right back," Johnson said.
"I think that he's improved physically since he's been here, the facility and the staff that we've got, we've put that demand on him to improve there, his hamstring strength, his glute strength etc. Basically to be able to get across the ground more consistently, and I think he has showed that so far this season.
"He's always been a good player and a good lad.
"I'm always trying to get him to take fewer touches in midfield, I always think he can switch the play a bit quicker.
"So there's still areas that we're all trying to improve on, but he's a big part of our squad.
"He's worth his weight in gold both in terms of how he is as a human, and how flexible he is in terms of where he plays.
"I think in terms of his position, I just think he's really happy to be here and sees it as a massive opportunity.
"I think some players don't recognise how big an opportunity it is, but Carl definitely does.
"And I think he appreciates what he's got to do to takr this football club to where it could be.
"If I told him he was centre half next week, left back the week after that, no problem, you know exactly the level of effort you're going to get from him."
The Northern Irishman is quickly making quick strides in those areas Johnson has asked for even more improvement.
The midfielder was one of Sunderland' s strongest performers against Karl Robinson's side,with Johnson moved to single him out for praise in his post-match press conference.
"I thought Carl Winchester was absolutely outstanding today," Johnson said.
"The mileage he put in, the energy, he tried to play forward as often as he could, and he was very competitive in the middle."
Speaking after the game himself, Winchester said he would play wherever needed to help Sunderland in the push for automatic promotion.
"Look, I've always said I'm just happy to be out there helping the team, whatever position," he said.
"We've had a lot of injuries recently so I'll just play anywhere to be honest, and I'll do my job for the team.
"The clubs I've come from, absolutely no disrespect to them but Sunderland is just a completely different level. I'm just buzzing to be here and so I'm just working as hard as I possibly can to prove that I deserve to be here."