BANNED Sunderland star Jason McAteer fears he could lose his treasured central midfield slot - after waiting six years for a regular start in his preferred position.

McAteer serves a one-match suspension for Saturday's Premiership clash at Chelsea after collecting five yellow cards.

And with Claudio Reyna, Gavin McCann and Paul Thirlwell all set to return from injury at Stamford Bridge, the Republic of Ireland international fears his absence could prove costly in the long term.

McAteer earned a dream move to Liverpool on the back of his powerful central midfield displays for Bolton Wanderers as a youngster.

And he's been stuck in the middle again by manager Peter Reid in Sunderland's last four games.

McAteer said: "Obviously, I'll play anywhere the gaffer wants me to, but central midfield is my preferred position really.

"I've loved being back in there again. I played there for years at Bolton and it's like riding a bike - it's something you don't forget how to do.

"I followed my heart six years ago to join Liverpool and I suppose you could say I've played out of position ever since.

"I went onto the right wing, and I've stayed wide since then, apart from a few games when I've been used in the centre.

"I'm not going to argue if I'm played back on the right again, but it's very disappointing to miss the Chelsea game because someone else comes in now and has the chance to impress.

"I'd like to think the gaffer knows I'll give everything whatever position he puts me in, though, so I won't complain if I can't get back in central midfield after the ban.

"The club has loads of options in that position, especially with the injured lads coming back."

McAteer scored his first Sunderland goal as the Black Cats beat Bolton 1-0 in their last match.

And he had enough good chances to have netted a hat-trick.

The 30-year-old said: "You are much more involved in the game in central midfield and you have the chance to get in scoring positions, which I was able to do against Bolton.

"It's a shame I'm not going to be available to keep that run going at Chelsea, but that's the way it goes.

"The most important thing is that the lads go there feeling confident after a win and a few decent perfomances. We've made lots of scoring chances in the last few games, but not got the rewards we deserve.

"We wish we'd had a game last weekend because when you win you want the next game to come straight away. But the fact we didn't play has give some other lads more time for their fitness."