FORTUNES have been contrasting for Aiden McGeady and Chris Maguire since being pictured after December’s defeat to Gillingham tucking into fast food wearing Sunderland tracksuits.

A fall-out led to McGeady being told to find a new club, train with the Under-23s and eventually head to Charlton during the transfer window, sparked something of a revival for Maguire.

The 31-year-old has been part of Sunderland’s resurgence ever since and has started every game since contributing to the victory at Doncaster before the turn of the year.

Phil Parkinson, the Sunderland boss, is full of admiration for the way Maguire has turned things around, having urged him to improve his fitness levels after taking over – and he feels the team is benefitting from the standards he has started to set.

“I think everybody knows with Chris that he’s always striving for that consistency level, and he’s started to show that. His fitness levels are better, he’s lost weight, and he’s training better,” said Parkinson, ahead of today’s promotion tussle with Ipswich Town.

“He’s reaped the rewards for that on a Saturday afternoon or a Tuesday evening. It goes hand in hand. If you get yourself in good physical condition, you can keep producing the performances, and I’m pleased for him because he’s got his rewards with his performances.

“The challenge for Chris now is not to pat himself on the back too much. We certainly won’t be giving him too much praise because I believe he’s got the ability to push on again.

“I had a good chat with Chris, his agent and Nick Allenby. We sat down a few months ago and talked through the areas he needed to improve on in terms of the way he prepared for games, and he’s taken everything on board.”

While Parkinson is satisfied with the improvements Maguire has made he has stressed the importance of him building on that, and he has explained his reasons for including his agent, Lee Matthews, a former Leeds and Bristol City striker, in discussions.

“We’ve included his agent in that, who is an ex-player, and I think that’s important because players sometimes need someone away from the training ground to keep chipping away at them,” said Parkinson.

“He’s done well. We’re pleased with where Chris is, he’s found that consistency level, but like I say, I really believe Chris should have that real desire now to push on again.

“Chris has got an end product. He produces, be it with assists, attempts on goal.

“That’s what he can do, and he’s done it all his career. But you can’t just rest on your laurels and think, ‘Well, I’m gonna keep getting picked because I can take an occasional free-kick’.

“You’ve got to contribute more to the team in and out of possession, and that’s what we’ve been stressing to Chris because you look at the modern game and everybody’s got to do both sides of the game. Teams in the Premiership, they don’t carry any passengers when the opposition have got the ball.

“Chris is now buying into that and understanding that, ‘I want to maximise my potential, I want to play at the highest, the best club I can, which is Sunderland, and at the highest possible level’.

“And to do that, you’ve got to do everything - both sides the game - and he is capable of doing it.”

Maguire is likely to start against Ipswich again today, as Sunderland look to get back to winning ways after losing at Portsmouth last weekend.

Parkinson was named manager of the month after an unbeaten January, part of a nine-match unbeaten run, and Sunderland can climb level on points with fourth placed Ipswich by winning.

He said: “It was just a case of blocking everything out and concentrating on the process. I know, and I knew, what I wanted to get to with the team, in terms of the way I wanted us to play. The lads are really buying into everything and having a real go for themselves and the supporters, and for everyone connected with the club. That’s got us to this position, and now my chat with the lads this week is that we have to be ready to push on again and we want more from them.

“I feel there are players in the group who are emerging as real characters, and we needed that to happen. The dressing room is good. There’s competition in it, which you need, but what I’ve been pleased with is that the lads who have been left out of the team, and at times there’s had to be some tough decisions, every player has been professional in the way they’ve taken those decisions, and not once has anyone affected the standard on the training pitch.”