WITH Lee Cattermole set to sit out Sunderland's next four matches, David Vaughan insists he is ready to fill the misbehaving midfielder's shoes.
Cattermole picked up his tenth booking of the season and received a post-match red card in Sunday's derby draw with Newcastle, a disciplinary double that ensures he will miss a run of four games that includes Saturday's home match with Liverpool and the following weekend's FA Cup quarter-final at Everton.
His absence represents a considerable blow to Sunderland's chances of securing a semi-final trip to Wembley, with Cattermole having been one of the club's most influential performers under new boss Martin O'Neill.
With Stephane Sessegnon also suspended for three matches, O'Neill will have to make significant changes for both this weekend's game and the trip to Goodison Park.
In the FA Cup game in particular, he is likely to field a five-man midfield, and that will almost certainly mean the return of Vaughan, who was an unused substitute at the weekend.
The Wales international has recovered from the ankle ligament injury he sustained at the end of January, and while he is a very different player to Cattermole, he is determined to ensure Sunderland's skipper is not too badly missed.
“Lee has done really well of late and deserves the praise he's been getting since Martin came in,” said Vaughan, who has made 16 starts since moving to Wearside from Blackpool. “But he's not going to be available for the next four games so it's down to whoever gets his place to step into his shoes and do a good job.
“There are some big games coming up, and hopefully I'll get a chance to show what I can do in them. I'll be staking a claim for a place in midfield and doing everything I can to help the team.”
Sunderland have survived without Cattermole in a number of matches already this season, and in Vaughan, Craig Gardner and Jack Colback, the Black Cats still boast a midfield triumvirate capable of blending defence with attack.
O'Neill's predecessor, Steve Bruce, signed Vaughan and Gardner last summer in an attempt to provide some creativity from a central area. The ploy has been sporadically successful, and while neither player has enjoyed a trouble-free maiden season on Wearside, both have impressed in patches.
“It's been a bit of a frustrating season for me really,” admitted Vaughan. “It's been one thing after another. There have been a couple of stages where I've had a little run in the team, but injuries have come at really bad times.
“It's been a bit of a stop-start year, but hopefully I can get another run in the team between now and the end of the season.
“I feel settled now. There were a lot of new players coming in and for whatever reason we weren't getting results at the start of the season. That makes things harder for everyone.
“But if you get a few wins, the atmosphere is much better around the club and everyone is walking around with a smile on their face. If you get the results, then everything else is easier.”
A positive result on Saturday could lift Sunderland back into the top half of the Premier League table, while a victory seven days later would secure a first FA Cup semi-final appearance since 2004.
It is not very often that a home league fixture with Liverpool gets overshadowed, but with safety effectively secured and European qualification via the league extremely unlikely, thoughts are already beginning to turn to this month's cup clash with Everton.
“It would be massive to get to an FA Cup semi-final,” said Vaughan. “A club of the stature of Sunderland should be competing for trophies and hopefully we can do that in the FA Cup.
“It's good to have two massive games coming straight up after the derby. Sometimes, when you've played in a big game like last weekend's, things can peter out a bit afterwards.
“That's not the case here. We have big games coming up and some really important things to look forward to. It would be massive to get to Wembley, huge. I played there with Blackpool and the occasion was brilliant, and I'd love to get back there and play with Sunderland.”