The Sunderland manager, Steve Bruce, is backing the club's influential midfielder Lee Cattermole to rediscover his best form just when his side needs it most.
The 21-year-old was a tower of strength during the opening weeks of the campaign and he and fellow new arrival Lorik Cana provided a formidable screen in front of Bruce's defence and set the tone for the rest of the team.
Indeed, of the 15 games in which the £6m summer signing from Wigan has appeared this season, the Black Cats have won five, drawn five and lost five. Significantly, those appearances have come largely in two spells either side of a knee ligament injury which kept the former Middlesbrough man out of action for two months.
Before he succumbed during the 1-0 win over Liverpool on 17 October, he had five wins and a draw to his name in eight starts, an illustration of his importance to the team.
Cattermole struggled to reach that level in Sunday's drab 0-0 draw with Fulham, which left his side just three points clear of the Premier League drop zone, but Bruce is convinced he will have a major say during the remaining weeks of the campaign as he regains full match sharpness.
He said: "Cattermole is fit, he is 100 per cent fit. The kid had only just started and had a serious knee injury for the first time in his life. He is only 21 and he has missed three months. He is physically fit, but obviously he is finding it a little bit of a struggle at the moment just to adapt, to come back playing again.
"He had only completed seven games going into March, and he has found it a bit of a struggle dealing with being injured. Cattermole was the driving force of this team two or three months ago, and we missed him. He is only a boy, he is only 21 years old, so he will learn from it."
Cattermole himself has admitted his frustration at his injury lay-off, and is desperate to regain his fitness and form, although he knows that could take time.
He said: "I know if I stay fit now until the end of the season, it will only be the last few games of the season where I really feel back to full strength. I have spoken to the manager a couple of times about it and he said if you have eight weeks off in the summer, you need six weeks' pre-season before you go and play a game.
"I had eight weeks off and then I had two days' training and I went and played a game, and I got injured. It just shows you have to do everything right, and that's what I am going to try to do."
Cattermole has made seven appearances since his return from his big injury, one of them as a substitute, and the Black Cats have drawn each of the last four games in which he has played.
Bruce will hope his side can build upon that platform, and the fitness of his young midfielder and that of key defender John Mensah, who has been plagued by a back problem, could be crucial. The manager said: "I know for a fact we are a very decent team when those two are in it. They make such a difference, so I hope we can get a bit of luck there and have the two of them available for the next three months. That would be nice."
Meanwhile, no one will face charges over the death of a fan at a Premier League match last month, it was announced yesterday.
John Steven Taylor, 30, from Darwen, Lancashire, died after an incident during Stoke City's home game against Blackburn Rovers on 6 February. Taylor, a Blackburn season-ticket holder, was found unconscious on the concourse of the south stand at Stoke's Britannia Stadium just after half-time. He was treated at the scene for a head injury and cardiac arrest, then taken to the University Hospital of North Staffordshire, but died hours later.
A post-mortem examination confirmed the cause of death as a head injury. Reports at the time suggested that Rovers fans had been throwing around a large waste bin during the half-time interval and that Taylor had been hit, causing the injury.
A man was arrested but the Crown Prosecution Service said yesterday that no one would face prosecution. A CPS spokeswoman said: "The death of John Steven Taylor on 6 February 2010 during the Premiership football match between Stoke and Blackburn was a tragedy, and a great loss to his family. We express our most profound condolences and sympathy to his family. After very careful consideration of all the evidence available we have concluded there is insufficient evidence to advance a prosecution with a realistic prospect of conviction."Reuse content