David Moyes believes Lamine Kone has turned a corner and is looking back to his best – with the help of some double training sessions.
The Ivory Coast international had struggled to recapture the form from last season that led Everton to lodge an £18million bid in the summer.
But there have been clear signs of improvement in his recent performances against Hull City, Liverpool and in the 2-1 weekend win over Leicester City.
Moyes says Kone and fellow centre-back Papy Djilobodji won’t thank him for the extra sessions that have been laid on for them at the club’s Academy of Light training base.
But the 53-year-old Scot says they are now both reaping the reward.
“I think so,” said Moyes, when asked if Kone had turned a corner.
“We are putting in a lot of work to both of them, Lamine and Papy.
“They’ll not thank me for having them out in the afternoons as often as they are.
“But I think Lamine has a lot of qualities going for him, his positional play has got better and Papy, you can see, is improving as well.
“Papy has improved too.”
Moyes toyed with keeping faith with skipper John O’Shea alongside Kone after the pair’s resolute display against a rampant Liverpool side at Anfield.
But Djilobodji’s pace was a valuable asset against the speed of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, who was disappointing on the day for struggling champions Leicester City.
Moyes first revealed to the Echo back at the start of November that he had been holding double sessions in order to help turn around the club’s season.
Clearly, it has had a positive affect with Sunderland winning three out of four Premier League games after going the first 10 games without one – a club record.
“Quite often,” added Moyes when pressed on how often the sessions take place.
“This week, the defenders were out. Even though we did well at Liverpool, this was going to be different. They were going to be a threat with Vardy running in behind.
“Mahrez has ability and we were not sure who would be up front, Islam Slimani or Shinji Okazaki.
“We had a difficult problem. The defenders played well and Lamine is playing much better.”
Kone, a £5million January signing from Lorient, came in for fierce criticism from Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher in the aftermath of the 4-1 home defeat to Arsenal at the end of October.
Ex-Liverpool centre-back Carragher labelled it a ‘lazy’ performance against the Gunners and questioned his attitude this season.
But Kone has since produced a string of much-improved performances in Sunderland’s winning streak that has seen them beat Bournemouth, Hull City and Leicester.
When asked if the criticism from Carragher had affected Kone, Moyes added: “I don’t know, I never spoke to him about it. Let’s be fair, the things that were picked out were correct.”
Kone was subject of a £18million bid from Everton in the summer but Sunderland blocked the move and handed the defender a new, improved contract.
He continues to be a transfer target for West Ham and Everton, while Southampton, Manchester United and Chelsea have been credited with an interest ahead of January.
Everton’s interest proved a major summer distraction, but Moyes says he refocused after penning a new deal.
Moyes added: “I think it was after he signed, I just think his performances were maybe not as good as what people told me they were last season. We need him, because if we are going to have any chance [of staying up] we are going to need him.
“Whoever the centre-halves are going to be, we need them if we are to have any chance of survival.”