Cuellar thrives on centre-back competition at Sunderland

The 31-year-old has recently returned after two months out with a hamstring injury and, despite the Black Cats' poor recent form, knows he cannot walk back into the starting XI

Sunderland centre-back Carlos Cuellar knows his first-team spot is not guaranteed after recently returning from injury.

The 31-year-old has spent the last two months on the sidelines with a damaged hamstring, with Titus Bramble and John O’Shea being preferred of late during his absence.

And, despite Sunderland being winless in their past five matches - conceding two goals in three of their last four - Cuellar understands that he must work hard to retain his place in the starting line-up.

"I understand the manager has a tough decision to make when it comes to centre-halves, as there are plenty of options," he told the Sunderland Echo.

"As well as John and Titus and myself, there is also Kader Mangane and Matt Kilgallon, but I don’t mind the competition for places, I am just glad to be back.

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"I am feeling good, feeling fit and, for the last few games, I have been happy just to be back on the bench and ready to be called on if needed. It is good to be available and ready to help because I would much rather be dropped because of form rather than injury.

"At least if you are not in the team because the manager might think someone is better than you at that moment in time, you have the chance to prove that you should be in the team – you can train better and play better and that gives you the incentive to get back in.

"But when you are injured, there’s nothing you can do. You can’t train or play, and, for me, I find that hard."