IT started shakily, but it could yet have a fantastic finale. The story of Alim Ozturk’s first season as a Sunderland player will be defined by the next four games.

Having arrived in the summer on a free transfer from Hearts, Ozturk made his Sunderland debut in the opening-day win over Charlton. A shaky performance as a substitute at AFC Wimbledon blotted his copybook, and while he started the following game against Oxford United, that was to be his final League One start before Good Friday.

More than six months on the sidelines; more than six months of questioning whether his chance had been and gone.

His exile ended three days ago as Jack Ross rang the changes in the wake of a 5-4 home defeat to Coventry, and his performance alongside Jimmy Dunne helped Sunderland record a first clean sheet for more than a month.

As a result, there is a good chance Ozturk could retain his starting spot when the Black Cats travel to Peterborough today, and while he admits he did not do himself justice at the start of the season, the Turkish centre-half is determined to right a few more wrongs as the campaign reaches its climax.

“I know it was not the ideal start for me at this club, so I want to show the people who I am, and of course justify the confidence of the manager who gave me another chance,” said Ozturk, who worked with Ross when the Sunderland boss was on the coaching staff at Hearts.

“After a period like I have had, you have to train well and keep as fit as possible. I trained very hard every day, so I can show the people what I can do. That was not me at the start of the season, I was not really fit, with injuries and stuff. I feel really good now.”

Crucially, Ross never lost faith in the 26-year-old, having witnessed his abilities at first hand during his coaching spell at Tynecastle.

Jack Baldwin and Tom Flanagan have been Sunderland’s first-choice centre-halves for the majority of the campaign, with Dunne also having thrust himself in contention since making a January loan move from Burnley.

Ozturk has spent the last six months in the shadows with fellow outcast Glenn Loovens, but always hoped he would secure a recall. Now, he wants to justify Ross’ renewed support.

“The manager knows me as a person,” he said. “I will never give up. He knows that. I’m honest and it was not a great start for me, everyone knows that and I know that myself. I wanted to pay him back for that confidence in me and I tried to do that against Doncaster.

“The guys who played before me - Tom Flanagan, Jack Baldwin, Glenn Loovens before as well - I think they did really well. A game like (Coventry) can happen, of course you don’t want it to but it can. But, overall, they’ve done really well, so I just had to wait for my chance.

“That chance came (against Doncaster), and hopefully I took it. It was really enjoyable. My last game was January, a long time ago.

“I played the Checkatrade cup games, but that was about once a month. I’ve tried to keep as fit as possible so when the chance came, I was ready for it. It finally came and I think I did well. I’m very happy about that.”

The Doncaster win ensured that Sunderland retained control of their own destiny. Win their remaining four matches, starting with today’s meeting with a Peterborough United side that sit one place below the play-off positions, and they will be guaranteed a place in the Championship no matter what Barnsley do in their remaining three games.

“We’re in a good position,” said Ozturk. “We don’t have to look at the other teams. It’s in our hands, although there is still a long way to go. It is only a short period left, but there are still a lot of games.”