The Sunderland manager Steve Bruce has called on Kenwyne Jones to put speculation of a move to Liverpool behind him and concentrate on reproducing the form which made him an in-demand striker.
Bruce yesterday conceded the Trinidad and Tobago international had been unsettled by talk of a loan switch to Liverpool, culminating in a poor display in last Saturday's 2-1 FA Cup loss at Portsmouth as the Black Cats saw their woeful run extended to one win in 10 games in all competitions.
News of the prospect of Jones moving to Anfield emerged last week, with Bruce labelling the approach "disrespectful" before Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez downplayed talk of a switch yesterday.
Black Cats chairman Niall Quinn spoke to Liverpool chief executive Christian Purslow over the weekend and Bruce said: "The situation, I believe, is led by agents, which I find unhealthy. We hope the whole thing has been put to bed."
Jones, who signed a four-and-a-half-year deal 12 months ago, has netted just one goal in Sunderland's last 11 matches. Ahead of tomorrow night's Barclays Premier League trip to Everton, Bruce added: "It certainly has unsettled him. His performance on Saturday reiterated that – and that's my fear.
"With all the speculation and nonsense that is surrounding him, he has had his head turned by a ludicrous notion that we are going to let him out on loan."
The out-of-form Wearsiders will be chasing a first away win since the opening day of the Premier League season at Goodison Park, with Bruce calling on Jones to rediscover his goal-scoring touch.
"There's no doubt the boy has got wonderful talent," added the Black Cats boss. "He has to do it regularly. Maybe over the last few weeks with all the nonsense that's been written about him, his focus has not been on playing on a Saturday, it's been elsewhere.
"We want to see Kenwyne play the way we know he can. He's got to be 100 per cent, otherwise you get found out."
Bruce has also called for an improvement in defence, but his options continue to be limited by injury and suspension and he has used 13 different back-four combinations in 20 games.
Matthew Kilgallon could come in for his debut tomorrow night and George McCartney, Nyron Nosworthy and John Mensah could return, but Anton Ferdinand (ankle) remains out and Phil Bardsley (hamstring) and Michael Turner (knee) are fresh injury victims.
Kilgallon, who signed from Sheffield United last week and was ineligible against Portsmouth, trained with the squad for the first time yesterday and is likely to feature against Everton.
"It looks as though we will throw him in at the deep end," added Bruce.
With only one win – the FA Cup third-round defeat of non-League Barrow – since the 21 November victory over Arsenal, Bruce is desperate for a reversal of fortunes: "We need to get a result to turn us around. I'm convinced we can still get in the top 10."
Lee Cattermole will add bite to the midfield and provide a lift for the whole squad, said Bruce. The 21-year-old, who followed Bruce from Wigan to the Stadium of Light last summer, has made two appearances since injuring his knee against Liverpool in October.
"He's the sort of player we need at this time," said Bruce. "I was asked at the time – when he got injured against Liverpool – how badly we'll miss him. I think it's been evident. We'll be better for him being back in the squad."
Meanwhile, Bruce described as a "tragedy" the shooting of transfer target Salvador Cabanas. The Paraguay international, who plays for Mexican side Club America, has been linked with a move to the Stadium of Light, with Bruce monitoring the forward for three years.
Bruce had already given up hope of bringing Cabanas to Wearside this month before he was shot in the head and left in a critical condition in Mexico City yesterday.
"He's a fantastic football player and what's happened to him is an absolute tragedy," added Bruce.