CHRIS COLEMAN admits Lee Cattermole might be struggling for form at the moment – but the Sunderland boss still expects the experienced midfielder to be a crucial figure in the remainder of the season.

Cattermole has started 16 of Sunderland’s 20 Championship matches this term, but has struggled to hit a consistently high level from his position at the heart of midfield.

He was withdrawn in the second half of last weekend’s 3-1 defeat at Reading, and with Coleman having confirmed his willingness to leave out experienced names if he feels it will aid the rest of the team, the 29-year-old’s position in the starting line-up has been called into question this week.

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Coleman accepts Cattermole is not playing at the peak of his powers at the moment, but does not feel that is evidence of a permanent decline. Instead, he remains confident the Stockton-born star will rediscover his best form and play a pivotal role in Sunderland’s ongoing survival bid.

“Catts never misses a training session,” said Coleman. “Apart from suspensions, he’s played every game. He comes in each day, shakes hands, says good morning, gets on with it. If he is lacking form, that will come back and will be super important to us.

“If you are at a club which has been involved in a lot of relegation battles, then that can take its toll for a little period, but you always come through it – he’s never been a problem for me at all.

“I took him off last week as he was on a booking and we were tired and down to ten men, one little tired challenge and it’s done. He’s going to be very important to the end of the season for us.”

For all that Cattermole might not have been at his best in the last few weeks, his commitment and effort cannot be questioned.

He continues to give his all for the cause, an attitude Coleman respects and admires. These are difficult times at the Stadium of Light, and Sunderland’s predicament demands a certain level of mental toughness and resolve.

Coleman is quickly learning which members of his squad are capable of standing up to the challenge, and it is not necessarily the ones who have been impressing him on the training pitch during the week.

“I’ve seen loads of good five-a-side players - we used to call them midweek internationals,” he said. “Brilliant in training, but when Saturday comes along, then they disappear. They can be fantastic in training, but when the bell goes on a Saturday afternoon, they are afraid of it.

“I don’t understand anyone not wanting to play football on a Saturday afternoon. To play football, you don’t realise until it’s gone. Make the most of every minute.

“This is incredibly tough, but in 20 years’ time, look back and do you want to look back at ducking it? There’s no other way than to stand up to it.

“I won’t be ducking anything coming my way, and no fingers can be pointed my way. I need people around me with the same attitude, character and mentality on the pitch. That’s what sees you through.”