CHRIS COLEMAN thinks Brendan Galloway is at a ‘critical stage’ in his career after being asked to prove himself at Sunderland rather than head back to Everton and look for a new challenge.

Galloway has not started a game under Coleman and the second of only two appearances as a substitute was on December 9 when the Black Cats earned a surprise goalless draw at Wolves.

When the 21-year-old has played for Sunderland this season it has looked like his lack of football over the last 18 months has taken its toll on his confidence, highlighted by the manager’s reluctance to field him.

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Coleman had tried to manipulate a situation where the left-back would have returned to Everton early last month, having stressed to the Toffees that he doesn’t see him playing much.

But Everton didn’t want to take him back and spend the month trying to move him out on loan somewhere else, so he has stayed on Wearside in the hope of making a more favourable impression in the remaining few months of the campaign.

Coleman said: “Brendan is a lovely kid and he has been working hard but he has lacked game time. He's here to get game time and he is not getting it.

“You don't want to waste the boy's time, it is a critical stage for him. We thought maybe Everton would want to take him back, maybe loan him out somewhere else – even in the division below – but that wasn't the case.

“So Brendan is still here, and he is a cracking boy. Who knows, we may need to call on him yet.”

Simon Grayson signed both Galloway and Tyias Browning on loan last summer and both expected to play big parts. While Browning has become an important member of a three-man defence, Galloway has spent the majority of his time on the sidelines.

The 21-year-old has only featured in seven of Sunderland’s Championship matches, intriguingly they have only lost three of those which by this season’s depressing standards is a surprise.

While he was on the bench for last Tuesday’s defeat at Birmingham he was ousted for Saturday’s 2-0 reverse at the hands of Ipswich when another step was taken towards League One.

Sunderland are two points adrift of safety but the sides above the relegation zone have shown signs of progress in recent weeks, even if Bolton were the only team in and around them to have won over the weekend.

While Coleman has been left scratching his head at the situation, his players have been warned to expect things to be just as hard in the run-in by one of the men who helped defeat them at the Stadium of Light.

Ipswich’s Freddy Sears has revealed how their game-plan was to keep Sunderland at bay in the opening exchanges before making the most of any signs of nervousness.

Like so many teams already, that was exactly what Ipswich managed and Sears believes Sunderland’s reputation for caving in after a bad moment is what every side will be tuning into when they face them.

He said: “You could see Sunderland’s heads dropped as soon as we scored the first goal. Goals change games because they started well and were on top so we had to weather a bit of a storm. We knew if we could get the first goal it would change everything. After the second goal it really did turn.

“You see it all the time, teams at the bottom. They have a spell and as soon as they go behind, it’s the same old story as if here we go again. We’ve been in that position and we know what it feels like.

“Especially at a stadium like the Stadium of Light, it’s a Premier League stadium, so when they’re struggling in the Championship and getting beaten by a lot of teams, you know their fans are going to turn and that can only be a good thing for the opposition.”

Sunderland are desperately hoping for a lift when they head to sixth-placed Bristol City this Saturday.

Coleman hopes to have Lamine Kone and Jake Clarke-Salter available again after injury, in the knowledge he can’t afford to go into the game with a three-man defence with full-back Billy Jones as one of those in the back line again.