MARTIN O’Neill has praised Matt Kilgallon’s contribution after earning an unexpected second chance with Sunderland.
Kilgallon was earmarked to head out on trial to the Championship this month after being frozen out of the first-team picture for 18 months on Wearside.
Under former boss Steve Bruce, the 28-year-old was left in limbo in the reserves after last season’s loan spells to Doncaster and Middlesbrough failed to spark a permanent exit from Sunderland.
But with fellow central defenders Wes Brown, Titus Bramble and Michael Turner all succumbing to injury, new Black Cats manager O’Neill was left with little option than to recall Kilgallon to the first-team picture.
The ex-Leeds defender has taken his chance – helping the Black Cats keep a clean sheet against league leaders Manchester City after replacing Brown and then impressing in starts against Wigan and Peterborough.
O’Neill said: “I hadn’t seen that much of him, other than little bits in training, of course.
“He got the opportunity the other week when Wes Brown got injured. He went on to the field and he has acquitted himself very well so far in the games.
“I think he is just pleased to be involved at this minute where perhaps he didn’t have involvement before. Now that’s fine. I have been at football clubs where players maybe didn’t get the same sort of involvement before and then suddenly it happens for them either with the manager there or with someone else in.
“It’s the case with not just Matt himself, but with other players. If they feel as if the team has done well and they hadn’t been a serious part of it, when they get that opportunity, they might as well give it everything they have got.
“I think that applies here.”
Kilgallon looks set to keep his place for Saturday’s trip to Chelsea, although O’Neill could hand Turner a return to the starting XI.
The ex-Hull man has been out since November with a knee injury, but was back on the bench at Peterborough last weekend after a 70-minute run-out for the reserves.
* Sunderland season card holders can apply for tickets for February 4’s trip to Stoke City until next Thursday, with prices £30 (adults), £21 (over-65s), £17 (under-17s) and £14 (under-11s).