Chris Coleman has launched a staunch defence of John O’Shea and Lee Cattermole - stating Sunderland need more strong characters like them.
The vastly experienced duo are the club’s longest serving players, but have often come under heavy fire from supporters with Sunderland again battling relegation.
After a decade in the top flight, Sunderland were relegated last summer and now face a fight to stay in the Championship, the Black Cats rooted to the bottom, three points from safety.
Coleman, who has no issue with fans voicing their opinions, accepts the pair are likely to be targeted given they have been at the club so long.
But he has moved to defend former Manchester United defender O’Shea, who has been at Sunderland seven years and midfielder Cattermole, now in his ninth year on Wearside.
O’Shea has become an integral part of Coleman’s back three, with Cattermole returning from a thigh injury as a half-time sub in the 4-0 thrashing at Cardiff City.
But it is their influence off the pitch that has most impressed the manager.
Cattermole has struggled for form this season in his 18 Championship appearances, but Coleman has revealed he has been a constant presence and positive influence on matchdays during his spell out injured.
And the former Wales boss also praised Republic of Ireland veteran O’Shea for his influence around the Academy of Light, especially with the club’s younger players.
Addressing criticism of the senior pros, Coleman said: “Lee and John I see getting around people, because it hasn’t been going great, and trying to drag people forward and being positive.
“They are both very hands on. Catts had been injured for a month but he was still in every day, in and around people, in the dressing room, talking positively to make things better.
“John O’Shea is the same. I see him speaking to the players in the dressing room.
“People say the stadium is half empty. I know that but the fans that are there, they are the ones we need to keep with us.
“If they want to boo us because we are not playing well then they are entitled to do that.
“Imagine if they weren’t there? Whoever is there, they are entitled to their opinion – that’s fine.
“From what I have seen since I arrived, I don’t know what we would have done without John O’Shea and Lee Cattermole, I see them every day, around the younger players. I see their intent and their meaning is good.
“I wouldn’t say ‘these are the problem, they have to be removed’ – I wouldn’t say that at all. Absolutely not.
“I have been around a lot of clubs and teams. Lee Cattermole and John O’Shea? I don’t see them being a problem at all. They are trying their best to make things better.
“Lee hasn’t always been in the team, he has been injured but he is still there in the dressing room before games and at half-time, and he is not playing. Still talking to people.
“That is what I have seen since I have been here.”
Sunderland are preparing for the visit of relegation rivals Hull City to the Stadium of Light on Saturday, with Coleman desperate to add new strikers to his squad.
Lewis Grabban made it clear he wanted to head back to AFC Bournemouth with interest in him from several Championship clubs including Cardiff City, while James Vaughan left to join Wigan Athletic after a disappointing spell on Wearside.
It has left Sunderland desperately short of striking options with Coleman currently relying on teenage duo Josh Maja, who led the line against Cardiff and Joel Asoro, who came on as second half sub.
Coleman has spoken at length about the need to bring the right characters into the club this month - players who want to play for Sunderland and are up for the challenge of a scrap for survival at the foot of the Championship.
And the 47-year-old believes any new signings have to display similar strong character to that of O’Shea and Cattermole.
Coleman added: “We got relegated last year, John and Lee were both here and have been here a long time. They will be targeted. That’s life.
“You get that at a lot of clubs, if you have been at a club for a long time you will get criticism. Being part of a relegation team, you are attached to it, that’s how it works but they don’t shy away from the challenge and that has to be a good start.
“We are bottom of this league now, both players are still involved in that here so you can see what people think but their mentality is what we need at the minute.
“When players come into this club, you need strong mentalities like that to get us away from where we are. You don’t want pretenders.
“It is easy to say something in public, easy to pretend. I see what happens every day, in training, and that is where I judge them and when a game comes around.
“Not people with throwaway comments.
“Hopefully we will get that right between now and the end of the season with enough good characters here.
“I think there will be changes in the next few weeks, we need changes,” added Coleman.
“Otherwise, we will be doing the same things we have done for the last six months. We need to change a lot.
“You can’t change everything quickly but we must make certain changes if we are to nudge it forward from where we are and where we’ve been.”
Coleman is targeting a further four new signings this month before the January window closes, to follow Chelsea defender Jake Clarke-Salter, who has joined on loan until the end of the season.
While the hunt continues for reinforcements up front, Sunderland have cancelled the contract of goalkeeper Mika six months early by mutual consent with Grabban and Vaughan also moving on.
Sunderland have also offered to cancel the contract of Jack Rodwell, who has 18-months left on his £70,000-a-week deal, after the midfielder approached the club and said he wanted to leave. Sunderland are still waiting to hear back from the player or his representatives whether they will accept the club’s offer of a free transfer but without a pay-off.