Gus Poyet has told Jozy Altidore he is one of the most important players in Sunderland's battle against the drop.
Altidore was linked with a return to Holland on transfer deadline day but never entertained the possibility of leaving Sunderland – and the Black Cats did not want him to go.
He responded with arguably his most influential display in red-and-white, dovetailing to devastating effect with Fabio Borini as Sunderland waltzed to a 3-0 victory that confirmed the gains made on Poyet’s watch.
Even in the joy of a derby win, however, there was a slight disappointment for Sunderland in that Altidore – who has only scored one Premier League goal since his summer switch from AZ Alkmaar – missed the golden opportunity that was presented to him in the closing stages at St James’ Park. Poyet admits that it is frustrating that the goals have not arrived for Altidore but he is adamant that they will.
And he has praised his selflessness in the meantime, pointing out that he has played a huge role in Sunderland’s resurgence.
“He had a magnificent game on Saturday. I was so sad that he didn’t score that chance,” said Poyet. “They practically gave it to him, but I said to him in the dressing room, ‘Ah, now I like it. Now you know how important you are, and you can feel it’.
“If we keep winning, his goal is going to come. But his performance on Saturday was one of the biggest and most important points for us.
“It’s difficult. I know strikers. I played with a lot of strikers who were top scorers, and when they didn’t score for a while, they would not pass the ball to you.
“They would shoot from anywhere because they wanted to score. He is not doing that, which is great and a credit to him. Somehow, we need to try to get him a goal. Maybe we need to beat the keeper and give it to him to tap in.”
Altidore will line up against his former club Hull City on Saturday with a point to prove – and the likely backing of Poyet too.
The critical part of Sunderland’s recovery has been the way their manager has imbued players who appeared to be finished a few short months ago with the confidence to reach a major cup final and also to recover their first derby double since the sixties.
The way he has managed to inspire some of the best performances of his Sunderland career from Jack Colback is typical of the difference under the Uruguyan.
Colback scored the final goal in the derby win and says that the entire club has bought into the manager’s philosophy.
“It has been a great fortnight. If you had said we would have been in this position three or four months ago, I don’t think many people would have believed it,” he said.
“People were looking at us as certainties to go down. Yet since the new manager and staff have come in they have been brilliant and all the players have bought into what the boss wants.”
Meanwhile, Lee Cattermole has been linked with a shock move to Serie A to join Napoli, who are coached by Rafa Benitez – a confirmed admirer of the midfielder during his days as Liverpool manager.
It is understood that the combative midfielder was close to joining Stoke on deadline day before Ellis Short stepped into block the move after are commendation from Poyet, who wanted to keep him.
Sunderland were credited with an interest in Braga’s attacking midfielder Rafa Silva in Portuguese reports yesterday.
The 20-year-old has been one of the form men in the Portuguese league this season, and the Black Cats were joined by spotters from Tottenham and Everton at the game.