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Ex-Evertonian Gibson needs to be this week's top cat if SAFC are to upset the odds & beat the Toffees

Our disheartening defeat against Southampton made the triumph over Crystal Palace one week prior look like yet another false dawn. To ensure we don't let ourselves wallow in mediocrity, a stabilising force is needed against Everton to keep our heads up and our feet firmly on the ground - could that man be Darron Gibson?

Sunderland v Southampton - Premier League Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

A physically-oriented, hard-working midfield is something we're in real need of against Everton. After the four-nil home loss to Southampton, it became clear that our defense is far too strained and lacking in quality to deal with repeated onslaughts from potent attacking threats in this division.

The worry going into this week's fixture is that Everton are far more formidable going forward than Southampton were, with the Toffees having scored twelve more league goals this season than the saints - who are, admittedly, no slouches in attack.

Sunderland, therefore, will need to take some of the heat off the back-line if they are to contain Everton when they visit Goodison Park on Saturday. Winning the ball and retaining possession in midfield would ensure this possibility becomes reality - but nothing is ever as easy as it sounds, is it?

The problem we face here is that our midfield is marred by injuries, and the current squad of players we are left with either lack physicality or lack the quality to apply it.

By all accounts, there is little worry over Didier Ndong's ability - he's technically gifted, agile and generally times tackles well, but he's young and actually quite slight, and cannot be expected to carry our midfield each and every week.

As for the others - Jack Rodwell often threatens to start being a good player but we all know how that tends to pan out. Sebastian Larsson will cover every blade of grass on the pitch if needed but sadly he'd not up to scratch whilst, similarly, Steven Pienaar is past it. As for Jason Denayer - he just isn't a natural midfielder.

And then there's Lee Cattermole, Jan Kirchhoff and Paddy McNair, who are of course all injured.

When it's put this way, it seems apparent that Ndong is our only consistent outlet of technical quality in midfield - but as mentioned, our Gabonese record signing is more oriented toward pace rather than power.

If he is to be accompanied by anyone in the center of the park, it needs to be someone who can sit deeper than he does and dictate play between the lines - and in the absence of Jan Kirchhoff that man has to be Darron Gibson.

Gibson's physical frame means that he can offer our midfield something that we have been sorely lacking in recent months, particularly as he begins to return to his peak fitness levels. With three stone more body weight than Ndong, Gibson's ability to keep our opposition off the ball - subsequently relieving some of the pressure on our defence and allowing them to move forward with more positive intent - will be coveted by David Moyes.

As being a Sunderland fan generally means you view almost everything with a degree of skepticism, there will naturally be concerns over whether or not Gibson can or will step up and deliver. But there's reason enough to believe he will.

The Irishman has seen precious little game time this season, and for many this would be a concern. After all, prior to joining Sunderland, the Irishman had played less than half an hour of first team football this season - and what's more, that tiny accumulation of minutes were racked up against Yeovil Town in a cup game.

But despite Gibson having been deprived of formidable opposition for quite some time, what we've seen of him so far has been solid. Surely then, he's just getting back into the swing of things?

Once the rust has been well and truly shaken off, we may well come to realise that we have a talented player among our ranks.

He'll be desperate to prove himself, too. Twice now in Darron's career he's been pushed out of a first team, so he'll know full well that a string of prominent performances will be required if he is to attain and consolidate a place in the heart of our midfield.

Gibson was forced to the fringes of the Everton squad; go back even further and you'll see that the same events transpired at Manchester United. In the case of the former club, a series of injuries was to blame for his lack of inclusion, so hopefully he's due a change of fortune.

That's not to say that I'm underestimating just how good Everton can be - Idrissa Gueye and Morgan Schneiderlin are a formidable pairing and there aren't many teams in this division outside of the top six that have a better midfield partnership. Gibson, Ndong and whoever else joins them in the centre of the park on Saturday have to be at their absolute best if we are to get anything - but, of course, we knew that already.

If Gibson's performances here are lacking, then the returning Cattermole and Kirchhoff could repeat his history and cause him to drop down the pecking order once again - and for the sake of the Irishman's career, he'll need to make sure that doesn't happen.

Sunderland need some big performances between now and the end of the season if we are to stand a chance of survival - we know we have a good goalkeeper, and we know that our defence can be very capable if they are well shielded. And with Jermain Defoe up front, we are always going to score goals.

Our downfall throughout this season has been in our midfield - Sunderland need Darron Gibson to shine, because ultimately the quality that he can bring could well be the difference between us staying in the Premier League or finally dropping out after years of battling against it.

And what better to place to truly start his career renaissance than on his old stomping ground at Goodison Park on Saturday?