Both privately and publicly, Chris Coleman has become the latest manager to reject the suggestion that John O’Shea and Lee Cattermole are part of the problem.
Off the pitch at least.
In this pair Coleman has found players willing to put themselves through the pain barrier, both mentally and physically, over and over again.
Only George Honeyman has played more minutes this season.
When you consider that Sam Allardyce identified the need to reduce O’Shea’s playing time in 2016, that is an absolutely damning indictment of Sunderland’s recruitment. O’Shea played right through the festive fixture list and has recently played through injections to manage the pain from an injury.
Coleman spoke on the issue after the QPR defeat, getting quickly to the point.
“He had to play,” he said, “he knows where we are and we needed him.”
Therein lies the heart of the dilemma.
Does Coleman, in the long-term, need to overhaul the spine of the side? Absolutely.
Would Sunderland be better off with two more athletic options in two crucial positions? Absolutely.
For all Coleman’s admiration of the pair, he will be fully aware of the mood on Wearside and that at some point, a break from the last reminders of the Premier League era will need to be made.
The most significant, of course, would be Ellis Short, but there are root and branch changes to be made on the playing side, too.
The question is whether that time is now, with eight games left of the season and Sunderland sinking without trace.
Does Coleman even have the options to make such a call?
In defence, he almost certainly does not.
With Tyias Browning injured and Jake Clarke-Salter suspended, Coleman only has O’Shea and Lamine Kone to realistically call upon.
Marc Wilson is nearing a return but has been out of action for some time and his form earlier this season was erratic at best. While he may offer a little more composure on the ball, there has been little evidence to suggest he would offer a more athletic and physically robust alternative.
Billy Jones could be moved infield, but that experiment has not worked for Coleman in recent times.
In his recent visit to the Sunderland Echo, Stephen Elliott also made the case that watching the Preston game, it was O’Shea always picking up his man at set-pieces, trying in vain to marshal the defence.
Would Coleman trust Kone and Clarke-Salter to play together without O’Shea’s influence when the latter returns?
Some may argue that the time has come to gamble, and perhaps it is.
For the busy Easter weekend at least, however, Coleman will have to put his trust in O’Shea again.
In midfield, there may be more scope for a change.
Ovie Ejaria has been a rare bright spark in recent games and with Paddy McNair returning to fitness, Coleman will feel he has a much better balance of creativity and physicality.
Cattermole has struggled at the base of the midfield, clearly not suited to that role in the way that Darron Gibson seemed to be a few months ago, when Coleman looked to be inching towards finding his best starting XI.
Replacing Cattermole, will be a risk, with Coleman’s only real options to ditch the holding midfielder altogether, or bring back Ethan Robson. Robson was superb on his full league debut against Hull, but had a natural dip thereafter.
With defensive options limited, moving to four at the back and going with the attacking pairing of Ejaria and McNair could prove to be tempting.
Coleman has made it clear that Sunderland need ‘regenerating’. He also made clear that he will look this week to find something different.
Can he afford to move on from the club’s most experience hands?
Not entirely, is probably the answer.