SIMON GRAYSON has challenged Sunderland’s Jack Rodwell to prove his doubters wrong by showing he can recapture the sort of form that made him one of the hottest midfield targets in the country not so long ago.

Rodwell made his return to the Black Cats starting line-up against Sheffield United last weekend and was occasionally booed by supporters after a few poor touches.

Despite having his manager stand by him when he commented about his performance afterwards, Grayson then overlooked the former Everton man for the midweek defeat to Nottingham Forest when he was an unused substitute.

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Rodwell’s recent frustrations effectively sum up his career on Wearside, having struggled to find consistency because of a series of injuries and poor form since arriving from Manchester City in a £10.25m deal in 2014.

The fact he was the only Sunderland player not to have a relegation clause inserted into his reputed £60,000-a-week contract – which has seen his team-mates suffer a 40 per cent pay reduction – has not helped his cause either.

Grayson is desperate for a lift and would love Rodwell to shine, and will do everything he can to help the 26-year-old deliver in a red and white shirt with two years remaining on his contract.

The Sunderland boss, knowing Rodwell also scored the consolation against Blades, said: “It’s always difficult when players are singled out for criticism. He didn’t do anything wrong last Saturday to suggest he deserved that criticism. He didn’t give many passes away, wasn’t at fault for any goals or anything.

“Sometimes football clubs have players who aren’t the fans cup of tea. We are all in this together. Jack wants to be successful, the supporters want to be successful and it doesn’t help any players, Jack or anyone, to get criticism which he has had previously or will do in the future.

“We all have to make sure we give as much positivity to everyone involved because that’s the best way to get results.”

Sunderland’s positive start to the season has been completely overshadowed by a dreadful run of four straight defeats in the league that has put them on the verge of dropping into the relegation zone.

Supporters’ frustrations have grown even more over the last couple of matches, with chants of ‘you’re not fit to wear the shirt’ and ‘are you watching Ellis Short’ ringing out last Saturday. Tuesday’s defeat to Forest saw a more subdued mood before Daryl Murphy’s late winner sparked an exodus.

Rodwell, who has won just one of his 44 starts since arriving from Manchester City, has endured fraught times during his time in the North-East – and Grayson is the latest manager who will attempt to get the best out of him.

“A few years ago he was one of the most up and coming stars in the Premier League, with a big price-tag and it hasn’t worked out for him for whatever reasons,” said Grayson.

“Whether it is a run of games he hasn’t had, consistent performances, it is now down to Jack to say I have got to prove people wrong.

“I have to show people why I signed for this football club. He will get as much encouragement from me. He is part of a group that will certainly be here until January.”

Sunderland travel to Hull City on Saturday knowing they have to try to conjure up three points and a performance to raise spirits.

Grayson’s positive mindset has been a breath of fresh air since his arrival but that confidence will continue to be low for as long as it takes until they start to win matches again.

And Grayson knows he will have to pick a team at the KCOM Stadium that will need a change to his forward line again, with Lewis Grabban certain to miss out with a hamstring problem.

Sunderland will not reveal the extent of the issue until later this morning but being without Grabban, on loan from Bournemouth, leaves Grayson with James Vaughan as his only fit and available experienced striker.

Josh Maja and Joel Asoro could be options this weekend, while Duncan Watmore is nearing a return from a long lay-off.