Ola Toivonen admits he was left huffing and puffing towards the end of his first Sunderland appearance in a month.
Toivonen made only his third start under Sam Allardyce in Saturday’s 3-1 defeat at Arsenal, yet it was by some distance, the Swede’s best display after taking the place of the injured Lee Cattermole in the starting XI.
It doesn’t matter how much running you do, you’re still a bit behind in your fitnessOla Toivonen
The midfielder was poor in October’s Wear-Tyne derby before being forced off with a groin injury, while he was equally bad in last month’s 1-0 defeat to Southampton.
Toivonen was much-improved at the Emirates, yet his lack of game-time over recent weeks took its toll in the second half, with Allardyce removing the on-loan Rennes man from the action just after the hour.
“We have a big squad and the only problem for the ones who aren’t playing is to keep fit during the week,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter how much running you do, you’re still a bit behind in your fitness.
“I was happy to have a solid game, a little bit disappointed that my legs didn’t carry me more than 65 minutes.
“But I’ll carry on working on my fitness and look forward to the next game.”
Toivonen played his part in arguably Sunderland’s best display of Allardyce’s tenure, yet the Black Cats paid the price for missing a series of chances throughout the encounter, with Fabio Borini, Duncan Watmore, Steven Fletcher and Patrick van Aanholt all culpable.
But the defeat - coupled with Bournemouth’s win over Chelsea - sent Sunderland back into the relegation zone, prior to next weekend’s crunch visit of in-form Watford.
“I think we deserved a better outcome, but if you don’t score against Arsenal with your chances, then they’re going to end up with the three points,” added Toivonen.
“We had good opportunities with Fabio at the beginning of the game and then played solid defensively, got the goal at 1-1 and had big opportunities in the second half to make it 2-1.
“Overall, we should be happy with the performance, but the result was not what we hoped for.
“It’s a big game next week. We have to do the same work as Saturday.
“It’s a similar game to Stoke, that could go either way.”