CHRIS MAGUIRE’S energy levels will be the key to his performances in the promotion run-in, according to Sunderland assistant manager Steve Parkin.

Maguire made the difference at the weekend as his second-half strike secured the 1-0 win over Ipswich Town that lifted the Black Cats back into the League One promotion positions.

Phil Parkinson has made a point of working on the forward’s fitness levels in the last couple of months, and his efforts have been rewarded with a string of impressive displays that resulted in Maguire being shortlisted for the League One Player of the Month award for January.

Tomorrow’s home game with Rochdale offers another opportunity for Maguire to help fire Sunderland towards promotion, and Parkin is delighted with the way the 31-year-old has responded to being challenged over his fitness.

“Chris just has to play with energy,” said Parkin, who stood in for Parkinson at today’s pre-match press conference. “The one thing that everyone is aware of is that he’s a very talented footballer.

“The key thing for us is whether his running stats are right up there – that’s when he’s at his very best. We’ve had several games this season where he’s covered a lot of ground, both in terms of sprints and the overall picture of his running stats. When he’s up there and doing that, he’s a very talented footballer.”

With no new injury problems to contend with, Parkinson will be assessing his players’ fitness levels over the next 24 hours before settling on his starting line-up to face Rochdale.

In an ideal world, he would like to stick with the side that beat Ipswich at the weekend, but he is mindful of not overworking his players, who will have played three games in the space of seven days by the time they have faced another of their promotion rivals, Oxford United, on Saturday.

“We’ll have to see what we do,” said Parkin. “He’s (Parkinson) going to sleep on it. We’ve got another 36 hours before the game, and that’s enough time for us to decide whether any of the players are a bit leggy and need a breather or whether we go with a similar team.

“The good thing for us is that we look at the bench and it’s a good bench, we’ve got good players there. We’ve brought good players in, and they’ve been great and trained well. We are going to need all those players to get through to the end of the season.”