Johnson backs captain Cattermole
Adam Johnson has backed old friend Lee Cattermole in his role as Sunderland captain.
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Cattermole's disciplinary record - his red card in the Capital One Cup at MK Dons on September 25 was the seventh of his senior career - has led to speculation that his days as skipper could be numbered.
However, manager Martin O'Neill, for the time being at least, is prepared to stick with the 24-year-old, who is fighting a race against time to be fit for Sunday's Barclays Premier League trip to Fulham having sat out last weekend's loss at Everton with a knee injury.
Johnson has known Cattermole a good deal longer than the Ulsterman after the pair emerged through the ranks at Middlesbrough, and insists he has seen a marked change in the midfield enforcer since his summer arrival at the Stadium of Light.
Johnson, 25, said with a smile: "He was always once of those players since we were about 15, to be honest.
"He was always hot-headed and got the lads going. As a young lad, he was probably even crazier than he is now on the pitch.
"But that was because he was young, he was so enthusiastic and he went in for tackles. But now, and especially this season, you have really seen a different side to his game.
"I know he gets a lot of bad press for being sent off a lot, but if you watch him when he actually is playing, he's a massive help to the team.
"It's not just all about getting the team going, he can play. He passes it, he is always looking to get on the ball.
"This season since I came in, I have seen a massive difference from when I used to know him.
"I know I have played with him in the [England] Under-21s, but he has matured loads now and he's definitely worthy of the captaincy because he is a great leader."
Despite his injury, Cattermole was at Goodison Park on Saturday to see Johnson score his first goal for the club since making a £10million switch from Manchester City.
The strike capped perhaps the England midfielder's best individual display in a red and white shirt after an injury-hit first few months on Wearside, and he is now looking to rediscover the form which secured a £7million move to City and a regular place in the England squad.
Johnson said: "I felt good. It's been coming. The injury set me back a bit when I signed and I sort of lost the whole pre-season I did with City through one injury.
"I think my fitness is definitely getting there now and hopefully my form will come.
"It's probably the best I have played on Saturday since I signed."
However, regardless of how well Johnson and his team-mates played on Merseyside, they returned empty-handed after second-half strikes from Marouane Fellaini and Nikica Jelavic completed a concerted fightback by David Moyes' high-flying side.
As a result, Sunderland head for Craven Cottage having won just one of their last 18 league games and needing to improve significantly to climb away from the lower reaches of the table.
Johnson said: "It's only a matter of time. It [Everton] was definitely the best we have played for a few weeks and we can look at the positives.
"Hopefully there are going to be a few wins in the next couple of weeks."