CHRIS Eagles has fired back at those who wrote Kevin Davies off as a spent force.
Fans sang the skipper’s name at Villa Park after he came off the bench to inspire Tuesday night’s thrilling 2-1 victory.
But that has not always been the case this season – and back in January, as Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill sniffed round for a bargain, there were some who believed the combative front man’s rich eight-year association with Wanderers should come to an end.
Davies was out of form and out of favour with Owen Coyle when Sunderland submitted a £250,000 bid on transfer deadline day, but the Whites boss insisted a move was never in question.
And Eagles claims the 35-year-old’s recent form has shown exactly why his manager was right to fend off O’Neill’s advances, and why some supporters should have stood by their man.
“It was wrong to write off Davo,” said Eagles.
“Everyone has got an opinion, I have mine, and I think they are wrong. It’s a bit like me going to their jobs and having a go at them. It’s unfair.
“He came on against Aston Villa and changed the game. With that experience, he is so strong. You honestly don’t know sitting in the stands how tough it is to cope with someone like that as a defender.
“But he has been doing that all season, it has paid off and suddenly everyone loves him.
“This is why we are such a tight-knit group. We don’t listen to what is being said in the outside world. The trip to Dubai last week was all about bonding, and now that team spirit has shone through.”
Davies is expected to shrug off a knock to figure in Coyle’s squad at the Stadium of Light but is likely to start from the bench again, with David Ngog playing the lone striker role.
Wanderers have a chance to climb out of the bottom three tomorrow, knowing that QPR and Blackburn are not in action for 24 hours, away to Chelsea and Spurs respectively.
And while the Whites would appear to have the better fixture on paper – with Sunderland floating in 11th, well above the relegation battle and no chance of a European place – Eagles knows he can take little for granted.
“It has been strange but you’ve got to give other teams credit,” he said. “Wigan have beaten Man U and Arsenal, you can’t just say it was luck.
“It’s well played and they have done a job like we did at Villa.
“It’s scary – I think the bottom six teams are playing the best football in the league.
“Everyone wanted us to lose at Villa, but now everyone will be looking over their shoulders at us. It will be another tough game at Sunderland but if we play like we did at Villa, I don’t see why we can’t pick up some points.”
Eagles – who is confident of shrugging off a minor hamstring problem – has also risen to the fore in the last couple of games, ending a 17-pass move to equalise against Swansea last weekend before providing an assist for Ngog to score the winner in midweek.
His season has been a relatively stop-start affair, with lengthy spells out of the team in December, February and March, but the former Manchester United man remains happy with his input over the course of the campaign.
“I have tried to do my best for the team,” he said. “Even when we have lost the games, I still believe my performances have been decent.
“It just shows you that if you are winning you get more praise.
“But you have got to give the whole team praise for the way they played at Villa.”